Madrid Open | Stephens survives generational battle
8 second round matches were scheduled for Monday at the Madrid Open, with some very interesting match-ups and even a meeting between Slam champions. Here’s the recap of the matchday.
Stephens (USA, 8) d. V. Azarenka (Blr, 52) 6-4 2-6 6-2
In what was by far the match with the noblest resume of the day, Sloane Stephens faced two-time Slam winner (and 2-time Madrid finalist) Vika Azarenka, who’s attempting her comeback on tour, and reached the final in Monterey just a few weeks ago. Despite none of the two giving their best on clay, the match was vibrant and full of long rallies. The first set danced on a thin line, before a brutal forehand acceleration gave Stephens the lead.
However, Azarenka got immediately back on her feet, breaking in the third game with a beautiful backhand down the line, reiterating her lead in the seventh game and taking Stephen to a decider with an ace to the T.
Unfortunately for her, the energies spent to equalise the contest proved too many, and Stephens won the final 4 games, emerging victorious in 2 hours and 6 minutes. The American showed all the heaviness of her groundstrokes, taking the lead in their career meetings (she now leads 4-3), and making the most of Azarenka’s 9 double faults and low percentage of points won on her second serve. After Wozniacki’s withdrawal in the first round, Stephens should now face a less troublesome opponent in Cornet or Zheng.
Kvitova (Cze, 2) d. K. Mladenovic (Fra, 63, Q) 6-3 7-6 (5)
Defending champion Petra Kvitova had to work hard to defeat Kiki Mladenovic in an apparently lopsided match-up, but still managed to extend her winning streak to 6 matches, after her win in Stuttgart last week, and beating her opponent for the 6th time in 7 career meetings.
Despite breaking the French’s serve immediately, Kvitova looked shaky, returning the favour and conceding 2 further break points while 2-1 down. After that, the Czech re-grouped and took the lead to close the set with a score of 6-3. However, in the second Mladenovic was even more dangerous, immediately counter-breaking again and going twice within 2 points from the set’s win. However, Kvitova kept it together and forced a tie-break, winning the final 3 points to book a ticket for the third round, where she’ll meet either Caroline Garcia or wildcard Sorana Cirstea.
Bertens (Hol, 7) d. J. Ostapenko (Lat, 29) 6-4 6-3
Two players who are at very different moments in their careers opened the day’s schedule. 2018 Madrid Open finalist Kiki Bertens is likely playing her best tennis, coming off a semi-final last week in Stuttgart, whereas former French Open champion Ostapenko has been free-falling for the past year.
However, the Latvian looked at times like her top 10 self, hitting several slamming forehands and broke first in the third game, before immediately returning the favour. Bertens cunningly moved her opponent around the court, often hitting into the empty court in order not to allow her more powerful adversary to hit from a static position. The Dutch’s currently stronger nerve prevailed, and she broke to love in the tenth game to pull ahead.
The screenplay looked almost the same in the second set: Ostapenko broke in the first game, thanks to an untimely Bertens double fault, but couldn’t hold to save her life, throwing another lifeline to the world number 7. Once again, it was a high number of unforced errors that doomed the Latvian, as a double fault cost her the decisive slip. It should also be noticed how differently the 2 performed on the serve: Bertens ended up with 11 aces, while Ostapenko had none, and won only 36% of her points on the second serve. Anyway, this performance should help her get some confidence back in view of the French Open. Bertens will now face another Latvian, Anastasija Sevastova.
Sevastova (Lat, 13) d. M. Buzarnescu (Rom, 31) 6-3 6-4
And Sevastova was playing at the very same time as her fellow countrywoman, looking self-assured as she proceeded to beat late bloomer Mihaela Buzarnescu in an hour and 20 minutes.
The Latvian, who reached the quarter-finals in Stuttgart a few moons ago, taking a set off Petra Kvitova, hardly conceded any chance, serving the lights out (81% of points behind her first serve) and denying even the faintest smell of a break point to her opponent, who committed 6 double faults and conceded too much in her own service games.
Barty (Aus, 9) d. D. R. Collins (USA, 30) 6-1 1-6 6-1
Two women with very little clay experience faced off in the early evening (Collins has only won 3 tour matches on red clay), with the steaming Ashleigh Barty prevailing in 3 lopsided sets, reaching 10 wins in a row on the heels of her Miami triumph and her 2 wins for Team Australia in the Fed Cup.
After a hold of serve each, Barty started applying her devastating variations and left the last American graduate tennis player absolutely baffled, pulling ahead in 25 minutes. However, Collins, who isn’t known to be short on self-confidence, came back with a vengeance and mimicked the dominance of the slice queen Barty to level things up, with the same sequence of consecutive games won. The world number 9 didn’t look particularly fussed, and immediately took a 3-0 lead, cruising on towards her double digits seal. Collins played an all-out bout, hitting 23 winners, but was able to procure only 3 break points for herself. Barty will be heavily favoured in her next match as well, against Putinsteva.
Kuzmova (Svk, 46) d. C. Suarez Navarro (Spa, 27) 6-4 7-6 (2)
A minor upset occurred late in the day, as Viktoria Kuzmova eliminated home player Carla Suarez Navarro in 2 sets. The young Slovakian (she will turn 21 in a few days) served to hurt, hitting 8 aces, winning 78% of points on her first serve, and saving 3 out of 4 break points, and will now face Simona Halep in all likelihood. It was a disappointing defeat for Suarez Navarro, who has won multiple matches solely in Dubai this season, and is yet to win a match on clay.
Bencic (Swi, 18) d. S. Kuznetsova (Rus, 101, WC) 7-6 (4) 2-6 6-3
The final match of the day saw an enthralling generational battle between former Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and rising 22-year-old Belinda Bencic, with the latter prevailing in 2 hours and 6 minutes. Kuznetsova, who burst back onto the scene in August following her win at the Citi Open in Washington D.C., fully justified the wildcard she received from the organisers, storming back after losing the first set’s tie-break. However, the Swiss proved to be too focused to let victory slip through her hands, and went on to win the 23rd match of her season, as she strives to make her way back to the top after finishing 2015 as the fourteenth best player in the world as a teenager, before injuries slowed her down. She will now face either fifth seed Karolina Pliskova or qualifier Kateryna Kozlova.
Putinsteva (Kaz, 43) d, P. Parmentier (Fra, 69) 6-4 4-6 6-3
The least heralded match of the day was one of the longest, as Yulia Putinsteva defeated experienced French Pauline Parmentier in 2 hours and 21 minutes. The Kazakh served particularly well, going above 60% in all three serving categories (first percentage, points won on the first serve, and points won on the second), and saving 7 break points out of 11. She will now face Aussie Ashleigh Barty.