The Mutua Madrid Open women’s final is much-anticipated, pitching Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka for their second consecutive trophy match as the two hottest clay court players on the WTA Tour at the moment.
There are so many different variables in tennis - that's the challenge, just trying to bring your best regardless of those conditions. Regardless of who you're playing, what surface, whether it's windy, cold, rainy, whatever it is, trying to adapt to that as best you can. Ash Barty
Barty has cemented her spot at the top with an astonishing array of statistics as she rides several winning streaks, including16 matches won on red clay, dating back to Rome 2019, winning 10 against Top 10 opponents, dating back to the 2019 WTA Finals and 10 against Top 20 opponents, all in 2021.
She has also made 5 appearances in finals, dating back to Beijing 2019, where she lost the title match to Naomi Osaka.
Not long after a convincing straight-sets win against Paula Badosa in the semi-finals, Barty spoke of her growing confidence.
“Without a doubt, you grow with each match that you play, every opportunity you get to try something new or try and rectify a few mistakes that you made in previous matches,” Barty said on Thursday in press. “That’s all learning.
“I think the confidence comes from the practice and the preparation. Then the match is the opportunity to go out there and hone your craft.
“I think with more matches that you play, it’s always a different opponent, different conditions.
“There are so many different variables in tennis – that’s the challenge, just trying to bring your best regardless of those conditions. Regardless of who you’re playing, what surface, whether it’s windy, cold, rainy, whatever it is, trying to adapt to that as best you can.
“I feel like we’ve had a really good balance of that this year.”
Barty also owns a 25-3 record this season, including 11-1 in three-set matches, and has won 10 of her past 12 finals dating back to 2018, including a tour-leading 3 trophies this year, the last being at Stuttgart against Sabalenka, which she won 3-6 6-0 6-3.
The Australian is the tour’s foremost problem-solver, and digging into the numbers underlines that her adaptability is a key component, meeting a broad range of challenges in matches and finding answers every time.
Barty has served particularly well this week in the warmer conditions of Madrid, which is something she will rely on, on Saturday, against Sabalenka, who overpowered Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in just over an hour to reach the final.
The Belarusian has yet to drop a set in Madrid and, not surprisingly, like Barty, is feeling good about her prospects.
“I just focused on my game, focused on the things, which I have to do on the court,” Sabalenka said in press after her semi-final win. “I’m not really focusing on the score or something else.
“Like all my focus is in the point, in the moment. That’s was working quite well so far.”
After collecting a 9th win in her past 10 matches on clay, Sabalenka was still reserved.
“I think my game has improved a lot on the clay court,” Sabalenka said. “For sure, it’s given me some confidence, but there’s still so many things to work on.
“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.”
Coming into her Madrid semi-final against Pavlyuchenkova, she felt a sense of calm, which is the difference between turning matches that could be losses into wins.
She has been dominant in each of her wins with a steely eyed focus, dropping just 18 games in her 5 matches.
Her longest match, against Daria Kasatkina in the second round, took just 79 minutes, while the rest took barely an hour.
Sabalenka fired 21 winners to just 11 unforced errors as she stormed past Pavlyuchenkova, pushing her to new heights in the singles rankings and a 23-6 record in 2021.
On the hard courts during the winter, the Belarusian put together a 15-match winning streak on her preferred surface, and is now showing it on the clay at altitude in Madrid, while Barty leads their head-to-heads 4-3.
“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,” Sabalenka said. “This week I’m definitely a happy person. Hopefully I just keep going like this.”
Notching up a spot in her 3rd final of the year, the Belarusian will want to add to her season-opening win in Abu Dhabi and, in a rematch of the Stuttgart final, will face her vanquisher in what should prove an eventful and exciting championship match on Saturday evening.