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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, April 26, 2022

 
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World No. 1 Iga Swiatek rides a 23-match winning streak, reigning champion Aryna Sabalenka eyes a repeat and stars return. We preview the Madrid draw.

Photo credit: Mateo Villalba/Mutua Madrid Open

Spring season is Iga-Fest on the WTA Tour.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek has been a world beater in her time at the top of the sport.

A red-hot Swiatek rides a career-best 23-match winning streak into this week’s Mutua Madrid Open, including capturing four consecutive titles in that span: Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Stuttgart on Sunday.

The first Polish player to reach the world 1 ranking is the first woman to score 30 wins his season. Swiatek’s sweep of Aryna Sabalenka in the Stuttgart final raised her record to 30-3 on the season—that’s just six fewer wins than the 36 she scored last season.



The 2021 Roland Garros champion has collected three of her seven career championships on clay and is a firm favorite to extend her streak in Madrid, but there are high hurdles to clear.

Here’s our five takeaways from the Mutua Madrid Open women’s draw.

Tough Top Half

The top-seeded Swiatek heads a loaded top half of the draw.

Seven of the 32 women in the top half are Grand Slam champions: Swiatek, Petra Kvitova, Naomi Osaka, Emma Raducanu, Sloane Stephens, Garbine Muguruza and Bianca Andreescu.

Seeing them come together is when the fun starts.

That may not take too long as Swiatek could face three-time Madrid champion Kvitova in round two. Muguruza could meet Stephens in the second round.

Wild card Osaka opens against a qualifier and would face either Leylah Fernandez, in a rematch of their 2021 US Open clash which the Canadian won, or Daria Kasatkina, which would be a rematch of the 2018 Indian Wells final.

Former Champions Competing

Only three former champions—three-time champion Petra Kvitova, two-time winner Simona Halep and defending champion Aryna Sabalenka—are in the field.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by #MMOPEN (@mutuamadridopen)



All three should face severe tests early.

If Kvitova wins her all-lefty opener vs. Swiss Jil Teichmann she would play world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who is riding a career-best 23-match winning streak capturing four consecutive titles, in round two.

The 21st-ranked Halep, working with new coach Patrick Mouratoglou, faces Zhang Shuai in the first round with the winner taking on either world No. 2 Paula Badosa or 2021 Charleston champion Veronika Kudermetova.

Empowered by her run to a second straight Stuttgart final, Sabalenka plays for her first win against Amanda Anisimova The 33rd-ranked Anisimova has won all three prior meetings vs. Sabalenka, including a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory in Charleston earlier this month.

Spain Pain

Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco publicly blasted the tournament for virtually ignoring Spanish players in awarding wild cards.

The draw poses demanding puzzles for Spanish players to solve.

As mentioned, new No. 2 Badosa, who made history with her breakout Madrid semifinal run last year, will need to summon her best from the start as she opens against Veronika Kudermetova. World No. 25 Kudermetova has won three of four meetings with Badosa, though the Spaniard won their last clash in the Indian Wells quarterfinals last month. Should Badosa beat Kudermetova for the first time on clay, she could face former No. 1 Halep for the first time.

No. 8 seeded Ons Jabeur, Olympic gold-medal champion Belinda Bencic and Coco Gauff are all in Badosa’s bottom quarter of the draw.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by #MMOPEN (@mutuamadridopen)



Sidelined by a left shoulder injury in recent weeks, Garbine Muguruza returns to action for the first time since her Indian Wells first-round loss to Alison Riske. Opening-round exits have marred two of the former world No. 1’s last three Madrid appearances, including a 7-5, 7-6 loss to Petra Martic in 2019, which was Muguruza’s last appearance in the Magic Box. The seventh-seeded Spaniard opens against Ajla Tomljanovic with the winner meeting either 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens or Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina in the second round.

Sara Sorribes Tormo has a history of hard-core draws in Madrid, including facing Grand Slam champions Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka in recent years. It doesn’t get any easier for the world No. 47 who takes on 2021 Roland Garros finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova with the winner potentially facing wild card Osaka in round two.

Welcome Back!

Several stars return to action in Madrid’s Magic Box.

It’s been a long and painful road back for Monica Puig, but the 2016 Olympic gold-medal champion is set for her first Tour-level match since the 2020 Roland Garros. Playing Madrid on a wild card, the 28-year-old Puerto Rican takes on sixth-seeded Danielle Collins, the Australian Open finalist, in round one.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Monica Puig (@monicaace93)


Puig, who was sidelined by left shoulder surgery and an elbow injury that has limited her to three Tour-level matches since 2019, has been spending time doing tennis television commentary and says she’s eager to get back on court.

All seven of Naomi Osaka’s titles have come on hard court—now she sets her sights on conquering clay in her first tournament since suffering a 6-4, 6-0 shellacking to Iga Swiatek in the Miami final.

The 24-year-old Osaka has yet to surpass the third round at Roland Garros or Wimbledon, but believes if she can sharpen her movement on dirt and accept the fact she'll have to play longer points that she can master red clay. A feeling bolstered by seeing fellow power player Aryna Sabalenka win Madrid last May.

"I'm clearly not a clay expert, but, you know, I feel like if I get my movement together, I should be pretty good," Osaka said in Miami. "I grew up on green clay, being from here, so it shouldn't be that foreign to me. And I know, you know, Madrid, Sabalenka won that last year, so I think that there is opportunities for me to do well, as well.

"I think I just have to get my mentality together to know that every match would be a fight."

Victoria Azarenka, who retired from her Miami Open match against Linda Fruhvirtova while down a set and 0-3, will play her first clay-court match since her run to the Roland Garros round of 16 last year. Azarenka, a two-time Madrid runner-up in 2011 and 2012, takes on Swiss Viktorija Golubic.

Tennis Express

Five First-Rounders to Watch

(3) Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) vs. Amanda Anisimova (USA)
Head-to-head: Anisimova leads 3-0

Power players collide again in a match that should provide crackling rallies and first strike tennis. Former Roland Garros semifinalist Anisimova has returned sharply and hurt Sabalenka with her two-handed backhand in past meetings. Sabalenka knocked off world No. 1 Ash Barty in the 2021 Madrid final.

Leylah Fernandez (CAN) vs. Daria Kasatkina (RUS)
Head-to-head: First meeting

Separated by just three spots in the ranking, these are two creative shotmakers who are both quick around the court. The 19-year-old Fernandez lost her lone clay-court match of the season in Charleston.

(4) Maria Sakkari (GRE) vs. Madison Keys (USA)
Head-to-head: Sakkari leads 2-0

The fifth-ranked Sakkari has swept all four prior sets vs. the American, But if you followed Keys’ career you know she can both streaky and explosive—sometimes in the course of the same match. Keys, who reached the 2018 Roland Garros semifinals, showed the power to stun en route to the Australian Open final four in January. Sakkari, who has lost both matches she’s played since her run to the Indian Wells final, will be eager to snap a three-match losing streak.

Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) vs. Shelby Rogers (USA)
Head-to-head: First meeting.

A study in contrasts between the crafty, counterpunching Putintseva and the big-serving Rogers. Putintseva applied sharp angles and timely drop shots reaching the Istanbul semifinals last week. Rogers, who showed her upside upsetting world No. 1 Ash Barty at the US Open last summer, has fallen in the first round in four of seven tournament starts this season.

(WC) Marta Kostyuk (UKR) vs. Clara Tauson (DEN)
Head-to-head: First meeting.

The first Dane to top the junior rankings, the 19-year-old Tauson is a talented all-court threat who has already won two WTA titles. The 19-year-old Kostyuk has shown her skill set against elite opponents scoring wins over Grand Slam champions Garbine Muguruza and Emma Raducanu and pushing former No. 1 Naomi Osaka to three sets at the 2020 US Open.


 

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