2021 WTA Madrid: Sabalenka snaps Barty’s red clay streak to win biggest title

That’s a wrap for the 2021 Mutua Madrid Open as Aryna Sabalenka beat Ash Barty, 6-0 3-6 6-4, to win the biggest title of her career. The tour heads to Rome next week with another cracking main draw and action getting underway on Monday. I won’t be blogging for Rome. The schedule is so tight from day-to-day and I quite fancy a chilled week of just watching the tennis. If you want to chat Rome then please feel free to use the comments section in this post. I’ll be back for the French Open 😎 .

Final result 🏆

The Barty-Sabalenka head-to-head delivered the pair’s third consecutive three setter in 2021.  None of the three matches they have played have been instant classics but all three have been equally fascinating in their own unique way. The match-up presents a real contrast in game styles and personalities, one that i’ve begun to look forward to.

As she has been for much of the tournament, Sabalenka was simply unplayable in the first set. 11 winners to one unforced error. ONE UNFORCED ERROR. Sabalenka served well, as you’d expect by a bagel set. The key factor in the first set was Sabalenka’s returning. Barty’s serve has been the flagship of her game and she won few free points in the first set as Sabalenka managed to get on top of it and land meaningful returns back in court. Ultimately, Sabalenka managed to get the crucial first strike in play and step into the court, not allowing Barty to wield her craft.

Via @Alex Macpherson on Twitter, this was the first bagel Barty has been served since Toronto 2017! Unsurprisingly, Barty was able to reset in the second set as she went back to basics. She cut out the loose errors from the first, improved her first serve percentage and had some help from Sabalenka who had already quadrupled her unforced error count from the entire first set in the first game of the second set! Barty won more and more free points on her serve as Sabalenka became increasingly wayward. One set all.

Barty was the better player for much of the third set and had all the momentum from the second set and serving first. Barty was flying through her service games. Sabalenka began to look out-of-sorts early on in the set. Sabalenka angrily swiped her racquet multiple times and then let out a piercing scream. Sabalenka managed to steady herself and actually channel the frustration positively as she saved two break points at *1-2. Later on, Sabalenka dug out of a *15-30 hole at *3-4. In fact, from there on, Sabalenka won the last 11 points of the match! Barty will want that *4-4 game back. Out of nowhere, Sabalenka broke to love as she bookended the game with superb returns that Barty couldn’t get back into court. Sabalenka served out the win with a clincial service hold.

A little surprised how Barty tailed off at 4-4 in the third set having looked the better player in the third set and considering how clutch she has been of late. Still, what a run Barty is having this year. Ash’s win streak on red clay ends at 16 and her run of consecutive top ten wins ends at nine. I wonder if Ash will play Rome because she has played a hell of a lot of tennis over the past few weeks.

Sabalenka was the best player all week. The manner in which she won this final was noteworthy. We know that she’s capable of peaking, as she did in the first set. What was so impressive is that she went away from that peak level and was on the back foot in the third set. Sabalenka managed to stay with Barty and then take her chances when the opportunity arose.

Interesting stat via Tennis Abstract – this was the first time Sabalenka beat a top ten player in three sets since Beijing 2018. In three setters against the top ten, Sabalenka had lost six in a row before this match. This felt like a hugeee win for Aryna.

Funny moment 🤣

That trophy was in jeopardy when they released the confetti!

Favourite snap 📸

Loved this shot posted by the Madrid Open Twitter page during the third set.

Memories 🤔

I enjoyed Madrid although the ending was weird. I liked how the matches were spread out at the start of the tournament but not so much when the two halves of the draw came together as a few players got hosed by the scheduling. Not a fan of how the ATP took centre stage on the Thursday and Friday with few women’s matches. It’s almost like they planned it like this…

This week was a firm reminder that Pavs is a very good tennis player. Badosa is one to watch on clay. As it stands, Barty is probably the favourite for the French IMO. Surely Sabalenka is going to break through at a Slam this year and reach at least a quarter-final. I don’t necessarily expect it to be at Rolly G but surrrrely it’s coming this year. Excited to see how Rome pans out and who may step out into the thoroughfare as a contender as the second Slam of the year looms on the horizon…

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24 thoughts on “2021 WTA Madrid: Sabalenka snaps Barty’s red clay streak to win biggest title

  1. Really happy for Sabalenka. I’d love to see her bring this form into Roland Garros! And Barty can’t be too disappointed. You can’t win em all – she’s already had one heck of a year

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  2. Good review of the match. I agree (hope) that Sabalenka should do well at a major this year. I think at least semis . . . But she has to do that. She is definitely taking all the right steps.

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  3. Thanks to James for all his hard work and I enjoyed the Madrid event a lot. I am looking forward to Rome where Barty/Sabalenka could meet again in the QF and Osaka/Serena Williams could also play against each other in the QF assuming that Naomi gets that far and Serena could play Belinda Bencic before then. Hoping for another good week of tennis.

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      • I’d enjoy that final if it did happen and I see that they have never played against each other before. I am curious though….any reason why you think that neither Barty or Sabalenka will get to the final ?

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      • Rome is completely different conditions to Madrid so I’d expect to see some different results. Barty & Sabalenka have both played a lot of tennis these past few weeks. Interested to see if they keep this level up…

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      • Sakkari has made the semi finals in Rome (I think she lost to Pliskova?). She does have a great game for clay, even though she seems to prefer quicker hard courts. I’m just not convinced that she handles pressure well in big matches in big tournaments. I think she’s going to be one of those players who often makes QF/SF but just doesn’t win titles. I like her though, so I hope I’m wrong!

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      • Sakkari is my go to right now in draws 😂. I’m still reasonably high on Sakkari but I know what you mean. I can see now she’s in a 3rd set with Hercog which I didn’t expect.

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  4. I watched the last set of Sakkari’s match and I think it was her high fitness level and determination that got her through as Hercog did play well. Got her next match against Gauff on my watchlist already and I expect it to be a good one. Think that Naomi will not find it easy to defeat Pegula in her 2nd round match.

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    • You were right, Peter. Watched some of Osaka-Pegula. You could feel Osaka’s nerves/anxiety when she had the set points in the first set. Pegula so calm, so measured. She’s an early contender for most improved player of 2021. I’d like to see Osaka take a WC into an international event over the next two weeks. Feels like she needs more matches on clay!

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      • Yes, I think it would be a good idea for Naomi to take a WC as she probably needs to play some more clay matches before the FO if she is to have a realistic chance of winning there and it would also do her good to have a good run in a clay event if she can. Match of the day for me tomorrow is Sabalenka v Gauff. I see that they met in Ostrava last year ( did not watch it ) indoors and it was a very close match. It will be clay here obviously and I’m interested to see how Gauff gets on against her in form opponent. Very sad to see what happened to Simona and just hope that it will not be as serious as it looked and she will be fit for FO and Wimbledon.

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  5. Hello, Moo, sorry for the queston about Rome in Madrid post, but i couldn’t find the answer anywhere.
    Have you got an idea on the reason why there are so many girls disqualified in Rome WTA 1 000 among matches who should have taken place on monday and today… Pavs, V.Williams, Munchova…

    By the way, did you give up prédictions ? (it’s my favourite game)
    Today, i had guessed Kudermetova to win against Mertens.
    C.U .

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    • Hi Richard, I’ll be back for the French. Decided not to blog for Rome as it is such a tight schedule so it’s difficult for me to keep up with my day job. Muchova was the abdominal injury that bothered her in Oz, Pavs was abdominal too. Not sure about Venus but just seem she’s taken a wild card into Parma next week along with Serena! Good call on Kudermetova. I’m very intrigued to see how she gets on against Barty tomorrow.

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  6. Thank you James for answer about Pavs and Muchova… i thaugh there had been something wrong with Madrid since all those girls were also in Madrid before retiring from Rome.
    Kudermetva was not that difficult to guess since her opponent Mertens retired from Rome because of her knee… I also thaugh Putintseva could beat Gauff… but this one failed even if Yulia had been serving for first set. I didn’t know Gauff very much, she is quite a great player.

    For Rome, i hope Jelena Ostapenko is going to win. I like her since French 2017 she won. This girl is strange, looks to me more than an artist whom expression field is tennis.

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  7. Is it me or did Svitolina get one of the harshest draws imaginable in Rome? Anisimova > Muguruza > Swiatek > Barty > Pegula/Pliskova/Ostapenko?

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  8. I’m afraid it’s you Andrew… who didn’t notice the level was very high in Roma because many girls were preparing for French Open.

    As an example, look at Gauff draw: she had Putintseva and won only at the very end, Sakkari, Sabalenka, Barty and then, Svito or Swiatek.

    But anyway, i hope you had a great time watching this tournament, it was great.

    Moreover, since this part is late because of the rain, the winner will have less time to rest before the final.
    The other side of the board was easier for Pliskova.Probably her to win in Roma.

    ***
    By the way, i’m sad for Ostapenko, she could have won this one. Hope to see her in great shape in French.

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  9. Following the clay court tournaments this past couple of weeks, I must say baseline tennis seems to have conquered the dirt on the women’s side. I do love power hitting, but the clay surface craft of previous years was always a good variation. You’ll most likely have to be very resilient and crafty to win that way against the current crop of girls. Slowing down the courts could be helpful too.

    Kudos to Swiatek, she was in it to win it! Karolina, I’m at a loss for words….

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    • That final was extraordinary! Swiatek was fantastic in her last three matches. Now favourite for RG I guess on form. Pliskova’s best week of the year but then to end the tournament like that. Brutal.

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  10. Didn’t see the match, only just learnt the score. Congrats to Iga obviously who looks like a standout player on clay now, but 6-0, 6-0!

    The worst thing about getting slaughtered in a final must be having to endure the presentation and the speeches afterwards (especially having to make your own speech thanking your coach, the sponsors, your fans for turning up to watch you etc.) when you probably wish you were a thousand miles away. In fact I honestly don’t know how they do it.

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