The 2021 Mutua Madrid Open draw pitches 52 direct entries and 12 qualifiers, led by Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka, with a host of big names for what will prove a highly competitive WTA1000 tournament from the outset when the competition begins on Thursday.
It has also thrown up some some intriguing first round jousts, including between Garbiñe Muguruza and Sloane Stephens, and Karolina Pliskova against Coco Gauff, while projected third-rounds include a first-time meeting between top seed Barty and Iga Swiatek, a clash of former champions between Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens, and a rematch between Osaka and Maria Sakkari.
Barty, the double champion in Stuttgart on Sunday, seeks to extend her 11-match winning streak on red clay against American Shelby Rogers in what will be their 4th meeting this season, with Barty winning each match so far.
No 2 seed Osaka returns to action for the first time since Greece’s Sakkari snapped her 23-match winning streak in the Miami quarter-finals, and faces a qualifier in her opening round.
Spain’s Muguruza has been one of the most consistent players of 2021 so far, compiling a 21-6 record including a title in Dubai and two further finals at the Yarra Valley Classic and in Doha.
The Spanish No 1, who has never gone beyond the 3rd round at her home WTA 1000 event, is playing for the first time since a left leg injury forced her to retire against Yulia Putintseva in the Volvo Car Open third round 3 weeks ago.
She has split 4 previous meetings against Stephens, whose own quarter-final run in Charleston signalled an improvement in form for the former US Open champion.
Putintseva, meanwhile, is Johanna Konta first round opponent as the British No 15 seed returns to the tour after an absence through injury for several weeks.
Pliskova has struggled for form in 2021, coming into Madrid with a 9-7 win-loss record and having only won consecutive matches twice this season, and the Czech’s first meeting against Gauff is a promising stylistic contrast.
The 17-year-old American, whose own season record is 14-7, will be making her debut in a WTA red clay main draw.
The winner of the Pliskova/Gauff encounter will have to navigate a section of big hitters.
In another intriguing first round, No 11 seed Jennifer Brady is looking for her first win since reaching the Australian Open final but plays former World No 1 Venus Williams, with the winner taking one of two former Roland Garros champions, Jelena Ostapenko or Svetlana Kuznetsova, before a projected third-round date with Pliskova or Gauff.
Meanwhile, two former Madrid champions could meet in the 3rd round, with defending champion and No 7 seed Bertens projected to meet 3-time winner Petra Kvitova, the No 9 seed.
Bertens opens against wild-carded 15-year old Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva, the 2019 Australian Open junior champion, who will be the first ever Andorran to compete in a WTA main draw.
Kvitova starts against Czech compatriot Marie Bouzkova, and will face a tough 2nd-round challenge in either former World No 1 Angelique Kerber or 2019 Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova.
No 3 seed Simona Halep, the Madrid champion in 2016 and 2017, faces a tough opener in Sara Sorribes Tormo, who captured her maiden title in Guadalajara in March, and has a reputation as a battler.
The Spaniard has won 3 of the year’s 25 longest matches, and won from match point down twice, so will be seeking to make an impact in front of her home crowd.
A projected 3rd-round against No 13 seed Elise Mertens, who is fresh off the Istanbul final last week, awaits Halep.
In the quarter-finals, she is slated to face either No 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka or No 12 seed Victoria Azarenka, twice a Madrid runner-up in 2011 and 2012.
Sabalenka and Azarenka contested the first ever all-Belarusian final on the WTA Tour in Ostrava last October, and could resume their national rivalry in the 3rd round.
Absentees from the top 10 line-up this week are Sofia Kenin (4), Bianca Andreescu (6) and Serena Williams (8).
2021 Mutua Madrid Open – Projected Round 3 match-ups
-  Ashleigh Barty vs.  Iga Swiatek
-  Petra Kvitova vs.  Kiki Bertens
-  Elina Svitolina vs.  Johanna Konta
-  Garbiñe Muguruza vs.  Belinda Bencic
-  Aryna Sabalenka vs.  Victoria Azarenka
-  Elise Mertens vs.  Simona Halep
-  Karolina Pliskova vs.  Jennifer Brady
-  Maria Sakkari vs.  Naomi Osaka
Click HERE to view full draw.