World No 1 Ash Barty cruised into the final with an impressive 6-4 6-3 win over wild-card Paula Badosa, the first Spanish woman to reach the semi-finals in Madrid, and she will now meet Aryna Sabalenka for the second consecutive trophy match after the Belarusian swept past Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-2 6-3, in the night match.
I'm just trying to stay positive and just trying to enjoy my life. But I was always like this, I'm always smiling, always having fun. Sometimes I have bad days. But when I'm here in Madrid and I'm playing my best and I see fans watching, there is nothing to be worried about and to be sad about. Aryna Sabalenka
It took just 75 minutes for the amiable Aussie to enact her revenge, having suffered her only loss since February at the hands of the tricky Spaniard, but it was by no means easy.
“I know it’s been a big tournament for her, she’s played an exceptional level of tennis,” Barty said. “She served particularly well, being able to control the court with her forehand.
“I think that was a challenge today. I was trying to neutralise that as best I could.”
Badosa went toe-to-toe with Barty early on, but her resistance crumbled while serving at 5-4 down when, despite saving 2 set points, she gifted the opener with a double-fault.
It put the 25-year-old Australian ahead but she soon trailed by a break early in the second before battling back to win 4 straight games and seize control of the match.
The 2019 French Open champion continued to turn the screw with a trademark ace, improving her match record to 25-3 for the season and underlining her dominance on the WTA Tour.
The win was Barty’s 16th in a row on the red clay, with just the one loss to Badosa in Charleston, and she is now just one match away from her 4th title of the year.
“You have to learn from every game, every match you play against an opponent,” said Barty. “I definitely learnt a lot from the match we played in Charleston.
“There was a small adjustment. I think just learning from some of her patterns, tendencies that came through and showed through in that match in Charleston.
“I think I was just able to control the court a little bit better.
“I was able to look after my service games a little bit better, build pressure on return games.
“That’s a massive part of it: not always winning points, but building pressure. Scoreboard pressure can be a big thing. That was a focus for me today.”
Badosa, the World No 62, who is guaranteed to break the Top 50 for the first time next week, played at a high level in a tight first set, anticipating Barty’s patterns and patiently attacking her backhand to stick with her through the first 9 games.
Serving to stay in the set, a brilliant Barty lob and a handful of loose Badosa forehands opened the door, but the Spaniard battled valiantly to halt the Aussie’s momentum at the start of the second.
After an early exchange of breaks, though, another untimely double-fault put Barty up 3-1 and while the World No 1 survived 3 break-back points in the next game, she consolidated for 4-1, holding with an exquisite drop-shot.
“It was important for me to get that early break back in the second and keep my nose in front, almost force her to come up with something that was going to be at a really, really high level to be able to get back into the match,” said Barty.
That tussle proved crucial as Barty conceded just 2 more points on serve to seal her place in a first Madrid final against No 5 seed Sabalenka.
“I’m very excited to be in the final,” Barty told the crowd after silencing their support of the Barcelona wildcard. “Paula’s had an incredible week, she’s a great fighter and playing her at home here is something I’ll always remember.
“I’ll try my best [to win the title]. I’m looking forward to another match against a quality opponent.
“Physically I’ll try to get as ready as best I can, come out here and have fun again.”
The win set up a repeat of the Stuttgart final earlier this month, which Barty won, but she was not keen to watch the second semi to discover who her opponent would be: “I think it’s a late match and I’m not quite on Spanish time yet.
“I’m Australian, early to bed, early to rise so I don’t think I’ll be watching that one.”
In the late night match, Sabalenka needed just over an hour to beat Pavlyuchenkova as the Belarusian improved her 2021 win-loss record to 23-6.
Saturday’s Madrid decider will be a rematch of last month’s Stuttgart final, when Barty roared back to win 3-6 6-0 6-3.
Sabalenka has yet to drop a set in Madrid and was in imperious form on Thursday as she faced a weary Pavlyuchenkova, who had ground her way past 4 top 25 opponents to reach the semi-finals.
The Russian, however, had defeated Sabalenka in their only prior encounter, on the hard courts of Toronto in 2019, and she tried hard to employ her considerable problem-solving skills against the Belarusian’s big serves, formidable forehands and variety of spins.
“I think my game has improved a lot on the clay court,” Sabalenka told the press, after she rolled to a 9-1 win-loss record on the surface this season. “For sure, it’s given me some confidence, but there’s still so many things to work on. I’m just really happy with my level here in Madrid.”
Sabalenka needed 63 minutes to defeat the 6-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist to continue her march through the Madrid draw in which she has ceded just 18 games so far.
“I think from the side it looks like everything is going my way,” Sabalenka said. “Some games I didn’t feel my serve. Some games something wasn’t working.
“It’s always part of the process. But I’m really happy that from the side, it looks like everything is going my way.”
Sabalenka won 73 percent of her second-service points, and converted 4 of her 5 break points, firing 21 winners to just 11 unforced errors to bring the World No 41’s run to an end, who had just 8 of each.
Notching up a spot in her 3rd final of the year, the Belarusian faces her Stuttgart vanquisher.
“Physically I have to be ready for this match,” Sabalenka said, as she looked ahead to Barty. “She’s No.1, she’s great.
“I played her in Stuttgart. It’s not an easy game. I will do everything I can to prepare myself as good as I can. Just looking forward for this battle.”
Sabalenka made her presence felt right away by crushing a series of returns to earn a stirring service break and lead 3-1.
The power-plays continued unabated as Sabalenka stormed through the remainder of the opening set, slamming an array of ferocious forehands in the final game as she broke Pavlyuchenkova again to take the one-set advantage.
Cruising through the early stages of the second, Sabalenka collected 2 more service breaks to reach 4-0 when Pavlyuchenkova, at last, garnered her first break points, but the Belarusian again powered her way out of trouble, holding for 5-0 and putting herself on the brink of another final.
Pavlyuchenkova, however, made one last stand and turned the second set into a more competitive affair by blasting her way to a love break to cut the lead to 5-2, and then holding for 5-3 apply pressure on Sabalenka.
Using 2 consecutive blistering backhands to set up her first match point, the No.5 seed fired her 4th ace of the match, emphatically closing out the victory.
“I’m just trying to stay positive and just trying to enjoy my life,” Sabalenka said. “But I was always like this, I’m always smiling, always having fun.
“Sometimes I have bad days. But when I’m here in Madrid and I’m playing my best and I see fans watching, there is nothing to be worried about and to be sad about.
“This week I’m definitely a happy person. Hopefully I just keep going like this.”