Britain’s Jo Konta began her clay-court campaign with a win over Yulia Putintseva in the first round of the Mutua Madrid Open, joining World No 1 Ash Barty and defending champion Kiki Bertens alongside Petra Kvitova, Iga Swiatek and Belinda Bencic in round two, while Elina Svitolina fell at the hands of Jil Teichmann after failing to convert 6 match points, and Garbiñe Muguruza withdrew from the WTA1000 event on Thursday.
I like sliding. I slide even on hard courts. I’m not a player that has to learn how to do that every year. I just have to remind myself how I was moving. I like to play heavy topspins. I like to have a lot of time. Clay is perfect for me. Basically it’s because when I was younger, I was only practicing on clay. Iga Świątek
Konta, the No 15 seed, who has played just 7 matches this season, beat Kazakhstan’s Putintseva 6-4 6-2 for just her third victory of the year.
The 29-year-old missed Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup play-off earlier this month as she continued to recover from a knee injury, but started her clay-court season in fine form over a tricky opponent and will play next Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, a 6-0 6-3 winner over fellow qualifier Ana Bogdan from Romania.
Konta, who has been managing a long-term knee problem, said there was a balancing act to be done between playing in tournaments and living in on-site bubbles.
“It’s very different playing under these circumstances compared to what our old normal used to be,” she said. “For me, it’s about managing where I feel like I’m able to really put myself out there to perform the best that I can.”
While the men’s event is scheduled to get underway on Friday, the women’s competition started on Thursday when Australia’s top seed Barty made it 4 wins in 4 matches against Shelby Rogers this year as she brushed aside the American, breaking twice in both sets to win 6-2 6-1 in an hour.
“I’ve played Shelby many times this year… and it’s always a very big challenge,” Barty said after her win. “I needed to make sure that I was at my very best to be able to compete today.
“Every time you step out on the court against Shelby, you really need to be switched on, play your very best because she has the ability to take the match away from you very quickly.”
The 2019 French Open champion, however, made light work of Rogers, a hard court specialist, dominating by landing 76 percent of her first serves, delivering 8 aces, and losing just 2 points behind her first serve in all while never facing a break point.
Off the ground, the World No 1 struck 19 winners to just 9 unforced errors, against Rogers’ 9 winners and 20 miscues.
“Each one is different. Each one presents different challenges, different conditions. The rate that we’re going, we’ll play every month this year, just make it a tradition. We play each other once a month.”
The top seed, fresh from winning the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix on Sunday, will face Tamara Zidansek in the second round after the qualifier beat lucky loser Hsieh Su-Wei from Taipei, 6-2 6-4.
The Aussie said she would to have adjust to the outdoor conditions in Madrid, but there was little sign of awkwardness against Rogers, and she remains on a third-round collision course with reigning Roland Garros champion Swiatek after the Pole booked her place in the second round with a dominant 6-1 6-1 win over America’s Alison Riske.
Swiatek picked up right where she left off in Paris last year, needing just 67 minutes to cruise past Riske in her first red clay-court match of 2021.
Having won 7 matches in a row to win her first Grand Slam title at the 2020 French Open, she has now won 8 matches in a row on clay without dropping a set, and has lost no more than 4 games in any of those 16 sets.
“I like sliding. I slide even on hard courts,” she explained. “I’m not a player that has to learn how to do that every year. I just have to remind myself how I was moving.
“I like to play heavy topspins. I like to have a lot of time. Clay is perfect for me. Basically it’s because when I was younger, I was only practicing on clay.
“A lot of European girls have this situation. My first coach always taught me to play with big topspin and kick serve. Right now it’s just natural for me.”
Swiatek struck 27 winners and 22 unforced errors, and broke serve 5 times while never losing her own against Riske.
“Today I just wanted to play solid and to use all the tactics, the clues that my coach gave me to implement everything in my game that he told me. I did that pretty well,” Swiatek said.
“I did some unforced errors that I wish they didn’t happen, but they didn’t have much influence on the score. Also I try to come back to the solid game, so I did that pretty well.”
Awaiting the 14th seed, who is ranked 17 in the world, is 59-ranked Laura Siegemund, a former World No 27 who holds 14 career wins over Top 20 players.
The German, who is a dangerous clay-courter in her own right, took outKateryna Kozlova from Ukraine in a clash of qualifiers, 6-4 6-2.
“I think I’m going to need to just, actually, get more matches on clay,” Swiatek added. “Even though last time I played, I won French Open, I played eight singles matches on clay last year, so it isn’t a lot. I still need to find some rhythm.”
Defending Madrid Open champion Bertens also progressed as the 7th-seeded Dutchwoman beat wild card Victoria Jiménez Kasintseva, 6-4 6-0, while three-time champion Petra Kvitova advanced after fellow Czech Marie Bouzkova retired at 6-2, 2-3 down.
Two Swiss also advanced, Bencic, the No 8 seed, eased past French qualifier Kristina Mladenovic, 6-4 6-2, but it was compatriot Teichmann who pulled off the shock of the day, upsetting the 4th-seeded Svitolina, 2-6 6-4 7-6(5).
Coming from a set down, and trailing 1-5 in the decider, Teichmann saved 6 match points before winning in 2 hours 36 minutes.
“Honestly, I didn’t even count them,” said Teichmann afterwards. “I was just thinking, I’m 5-1 down, but every game was close – I just ended up losing them. I always believed, even down match points, that I could do it.”
Ranked 40 in the world, the 23-year old Swiss produced a thrilling performance against the Ukrainian on the surface she grew up on.
Svitolina seemed to have worked out the challenge, keeping her baseline game watertight and committing just 5 unforced errors to Teichmann’s 13 in the first set.
Injecting pace into her backhand and advancing to the net kept Svitolina in the driver’s seat but a series of swashbuckling forehands got Teichmann the break back and, playing more freely, she struck 15 winners in the second, out-maneouvering the 4th seed with a series of brilliantly constructed clay court points, finishing them off with panache on the drop-shot or at net.
“I started slow, especially with a lot of unforced errors,” said Teichmann. “Giving her too many free points. So I found a way to be more solid, to hit more balls.”
In the decider the Swiss relapsed, allowing Svitolina to break twice and race out to a hefty 5-1 lead but, on the brink of victory, the Ukrainian became both too passive and too error-strewn.
An exquisite drop-shot save the 2nd match point, bringing a grin to Teichmann’s face, and from then on, her game was free-flowing again
A series of lung-busting points brought the match to its climax, with Teichmann a step or two ahead of Svitolina, and having saved a 5th and 6th match point with another two clean winners, the Swiss controlled almost every point in the deciding tiebreak.
From 4-2 up, a flurry of errors opened the door for Svitolina again, but it was Teichmann who stepped up and from 5-5, another delightful drop-shot followed by a powerful forehand put her over the line.
In other results, former World No 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany defeated 2020 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic, 7-6(5) 6-1, while Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur saw off her Russian opponent, defeating Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-2 6-3.
Jabeur will face American former US Open champion Sloane Stephens, a 6-4 6-1 winner over lucky loser Danka Kovinic of Serbia, who entered the main draw after Spanish 10th seed Garbiñe Muguruza was forced to withdraw due to the persistent left thigh injury she sustained in Charleston last month.
“This is the worst news, and the most painful decision any player can make,” Muguruza said in a statement. “We have been working hard to recover and be able to get to the tournament in good shape, I came a week before to adapt because I really wanted to do well in Madrid, at home and in front of my home crowd.”
The 2016 French Open champion retired from a set up against Yulia Putintseva, citing a left leg injury.
“But the discomfort has returned and the last MRI confirmed that I have not recovered 100% to be able to compete and the doctor’s recommendation is to stop
“It is not an easy decision, and it is a great disappointment.
“I’d like to thank the tournament for all the hard work they’ve done to make it possible for us to have this event this year in these circumstances.
“I hope it’s a great tournament and that the fans in Madrid and at home watching on TV can enjoy it. Next year I’ll be even more excited to try again.”