Wednesday wasn’t the most eventful of days at the WTA Premier Mandatory in Madrid, with close to no surprises and a short supply of drama on the side. However, such dominance from seeded stars might foreshadow epic clashes for the decisive rounds of the tournament.
S. Halep (Rom, 3) d. V. Kuzmova (Slk, 46) 6-0 6-0
The only thing that can be said about Simona Halep’s absolute annihilation of Viktoria Kuzmova is that it puts Konta’s Tuesday performance under a completely different light, since the reigning Roland Garros champion is looking like a pinball right now, ever-moving and ready to thrust back any attack with shylock-like interests.
Kuzmova is a quintessential NextGen player, to borrow a term from the male tour: she had served impressively so far, winning over 70% of points on her first serve in the first two rounds, and she hits hard with both groundstrokes, impressing with a couple backhands early on, but she was untested against the very best, and her concrete wall turned out very quickly to be made of sand.
Players like Haley (or Wozniacki, to name another similar athlete) might hit with a shade less weight than players like Kuzmova do from a static situation, but their movement is so finely tuned that they can execute consistently no matter their hurry to get on the ball, as she showed very clearly by moving Kuzmova to her right and forcing her to mishit a couple forehands early on, breaking her in the second game and de facto banishing her from the court.
Moreover, Halep was having a particularly inspired day, and every tight angle, every forehand down the line she attempted, everything flowed seamlessly from her racket, making things even more difficult for her young opponent, who might take this spanking with her for a while. In synthesis, as it would be overkill to delve more into the details of the match, Halep won every single game, bagging the first set in 22 minutes with a backhand down the line, and (copy and paste) bagging the second set with a backhand down the line in 22 minutes, proving that even symmetry can add insult to injury. Her next bout will surely be more testing, against ninth seed Ashleigh Barty, who might possess the variations to throw her off her rhythm a little, although today that looked essentially impossible.
N. Osaka (Jap, 1) d. A. Sasnovich (Blr, 33) 6-2 6-3
Osaka’s next performance was subject to some interest, since Tuesday’s battle with wildcard Sorribes Tormo looked to have unsettled her at times. Any such fears were quickly dispelled against world No.33 Sasnovich, who had showed a good run of form after losing a set in the first round.
The Japanese of Hatian origins served brilliantly, putting 71% of her first serves into play, and winning 69% of those, getting broken just once. She kept her focus throughout, breaking immediately with a backhand approach in the second game.
Sasnovich moves very well, and has some excellent angles, but her ball-weight never disturbed her top-ranked opponent, who seized the first set off of a double fault.
Sasnovich showed good resilience anyway, since, after getting broken again to open the second set, she immediately retorted with an excellent backhand down the line. Osaka got herself back together, though, and showed an ability to read her foe’s serve at will, scoring a 3-1 lead and never looking back, beautifully placing an inside-in forehand return from the ad court. From there on, it was plain sailing for the Florida resident, who won a final rally to secure a place in the final eight, setting up an interesting match up with fellow surging member of the 1997 Belinda Bencic, in an encounter that will involve 73% of all nationalities on the planet.
P. Kvitova (Cze, 2) d. C. Garcia (Fra, 22) 6-3 6-3
Another day, another straight sets win for defending champion Petra Kvitova, who beat former top 5 Caroline Garcia and also her kit sponsor Nike, who decided to dress them in the exact same way, making for a confusing, mirror-y view at times.
What impresses the most about Kvitova is her current continuity, a welcome change for a player who had always been described as streaky, unbeatable on a good day, and so on. On Wednesday, conversely, her focus was steely, as it has been for most of the season, with seven top eight placements already secured, and her court movement is probably at an all-time high. Just to give an idea of her clerkish precision, she was never broken, winning six seventh of points on her first serve, and instead violating Garcia’s serve on practically every chance – 3 out of 5.
As for her ball-striking, that has never been questioned, as she showed on several occasions against an opponent that isn’t a light-weight, but at times looked like one against such an inspired athlete. Kvitova willed her way to a break in the eighth game, clutching the set within her claws in just over half an hour, keeping up the momentum with another break in the third game, neutralising Garcia’s slice serve with her fully extended backhand swings. When it came to a rally, Kvitova often found tight angles with her forehand, exploiting Garcia’s lateral issues, closing the match in an hour and 76 minutes. On Thursday, she will face seventh seed Kiki Bertens.