Top seed Ash Barty had to fight hard and long to get past Tamara Zidansek at the Matua Madrid Open on Saturday but got through to meet up with fellow Roland Garros title holder Iga Swiatek, who beat Laura Siegemund, for a place in the quarter-finals.
She [Iga Swiatek] has got a seriously impressive game. Moves very well, can slide off both legs, controls her body really well on clay. Likes to use her hopper, gets around, controls the court with her forehand... Real exciting. Look, a match that I look forward to. Ash Barty
Other second round winners in the top half of the draw included Petra Kvitova, Belinda Bencic and Ons Jabeur, but defending champion Kiki Bertens and Jo Konta both fell, to Veronika Kudermetova and Anastasja Sevastova respectively.
It was not a good day at the office for Konta, the British No 1, as she succumbed to Latvia’s Sevastova, who had battled her way through qualifying to take out the No 15 seed, 6-3 6-3.
A former semi-finalist in Madrid in 2017, the Latvian dazzled with her drop-shots and displayed impressive grit in toughing out the final games of both sets when severely pressed by Konta to emerge on top of both.
The World No 54 closed out the first set on her 5th set point, and saved 4 break points against her before serving out the match at her first chance with another winning drop-shot.
Kudermetova upset 2019 champion Bertens, 6-4 6-3, extending her hot streak this season with an 80 minute win over the World No 10, firing 23 winners and converted 4 of her 6 break points in the process.
”I think it was a really tough match because she’s a good player, every time she’s fighting,” the Russian said on court after her victory. “I’m really happy about my win today.”
Kudermetova, currently ranked at a career-high World No 28, has gone 11-1 since the tour hit the clay, winning her first career WTA singles title at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, then following up with a semi-final run last week in Istanbul.
She will now face another former Madrid champion in the form of the 9th-seeded Czech Kvitova, who saw off Germany’s Angelique Kerber, 6-4 7-5, earlier on Saturday to claim her round-of-16 spot.
“I’ve never played against [Kvitova],” Kudermetova said. “She’s a great player, she’s a Grand Slam champion, and I’m really looking forward to the next round.”
Kvitova, a 3-time Madrid champion, now leads her German rival 8-6., but Kerber had the early lead in both sets and was unable to sustain it, allowing the Czech to break right break, then break to close out both sets.
“I don’t think that I really played like bad games when she broke my serve,” said Kvitova. “It was kind of important to stay calm, which I did very well I think today, through whole match. I just took her straight away back.
“I served very well, especially in the important points. I think like overall the intensity and the tennis itself was on the high level I would say.”
The highlight of the day was Barty’s battle against Slovenia’s Zidansek, who had also come through qualifying and refused to lie down.
The World No 1 claimed the opening set 6-4, but Zidansek stormed back into the match by winning the second 6-1, and proved able to press Barty throughout as the Australian fought to gain control of the contest, finally triumphing, 6-4 1-6 6-3, after an hour 58 minutes.
“Really tough match right from the get-go,” Barty said. “I think I did a pretty good job in the first set of being able to nullify a few breakpoints, over time work my way into her service games.
“A really tough match. I felt probably my margins were a little bit off today.
“Made a lot of errors. I mean, I think I was missing in the right way, but still just a foot or two here or there makes a big difference.
“I felt like there were probably too many loose ones for me today.”
The Aussie struggled with her serving, made 31 unforced errors, and lost a touch of focus in the second set before, typically, coming up trumps in the decider., now winning 10 of her 11 three-setters this year.
Barty can’t wait for the Madrid roof to be opened after having now played two ‘indoor’ matches on the clay, and the forecast bodes well for an open air duel on Monday against Swiatek.
“I’m desperate for a bit of sunshine, get out in some more heat,” she said. “Once the roof is open, the sun comes out, it’s a different ball game again.”
Swiatek, the World No 17 is rising fast, having earned her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open last year and winning her second WTA title in the Adelaide International in February.
The 19-year old Pole scored a relatively straight-forward 6-3 6-3 win over Siegemund, although the German incredibly saved 10 match points before bowing out on the 11th under the ‘Caja Magica’ roof in the rainy Spanish capital.
Asked what had she learned from her match against Siegemund: “Well, I learned you have to be patient,” chuckled the Pole.
Swiatek won 4 more straight sets on the terre battue, dropping just 2 games against Alison Riske and surviving a titanic final game to solve Siegemund.
So meteoric has been her rise that the No 14 seed is at the Caja Magica for the first time; when the event was last held in 2019, she was ranked outside the Top 100.
“Things feel the same because we’ve been trying to keep the same routines I had before,” she said. “Even though I have many more media obligations and other things to do off the court, I try to block all of that out at tournaments.
“When I go back to Poland, I have some busier moments because that’s where I’m balancing practices with media and sponsor stuff.
“It can be hard to switch between an intense four days at home to being back in the tournament bubble. You have to switch modes quickly, but I don’t mind this kind of lifestyle.
“I actually like the bubble because I don’t have so many external factors coming in; I can just focus on recovery and matches.”
Swiatek is now eagerly awaiting Monday’s last-16 showdown with Barty.
“I really respect her,” Swiatek said. “Knowing her story, probably I don’t know whole of it, but she’s like really a solid player, one of the most solid on the tour.
“She has a great slice. I remember it was hard in Melbourne to keep your legs low, just playing back those slices. I think most of the girls have problem with that. I’m going to remember about that.
“I’m going to play without any expectations because she’s No 1. She has, I think, the most wins this year. I don’t care. I just happy that I going to play World No 1. It’s going to be just exciting.”
Barty is not fooled by the sunny smile, though, recalling that she hit with Swiatek in Melbourne a few months ago.
“She’s got a seriously impressive game,” the Aussie said. “Moves very well, can slide off both legs, controls her body really well on clay.
“Likes to use her hopper, gets around, controls the court with her forehand…”
Barty has now won 13 straight victories on the red clay, while Swiatek, playing her first clay court tournament since Roland Garros, was making it 9 in a row on the dirt.
It took one wild fortnight in Paris to turn Swiatek from unassuming teenager to one of the most sought-after stars of her sport.
“This is what I’ve wanted my whole life,” she said at the Miami Open. “Sometimes I have so many obligations that it can be overwhelming, but that’s why I’m grateful to have such a supportive team.
“They’re always watching and when they sense things are becoming too much for me, they try to protect me.”
Barty, the 2019 French Open champion, who knows all about those obligations, is as excited as everyone else about the prospect of a first duel with her brilliant teenage successor on Monday.
“Real exciting. Look, a match that I look forward to,” she said, with a smile.
Meanwhile, No 8 seed Belinda Bencic survived an upset bid, as she eked out a 3-6 6-1 7-6(5) victory over American qualifier Bernarda Pera, which ended after midnight.
Two hours and 39 minutes of back-and-forth tennis finally went the way of the World No 11 as she held off the challenge from the hard-hitting left-hander ranked 70th in the world.
It was an important win for Bencic, who was a semi-finalist here in 2019, as the Swiss has picked up back-to-back victories for the first time since her run to the Adelaide final in early February.
In other Saturday results, Spain’s Paula Badosa fought back to eliminate another Swiss, Jil Teichmann, 5-7 6-1 6-2, while Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur ralllied to beat American Sloane Stephens, 4-6 6-1 7-6(5).
Homeland hope, Badosa, the only one of the 5 main-draw wildcards to win her opening-round match, continued her best-ever run in the Spanish capital.
“It means a lot,” Badosa told the press, after her win. “I love this tournament. It’s my favourite tournament. I love to play on clay. I’m feeling very good since Charleston. I’m having very good feelings on the clay court.”