Madrid | Sabalenka survives, as 8 seeds tumble

World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka survived a huge threat in her opening match at the Mutua Madrid Open on Friday, but slipped past Magda Linette, and while Elena Rybakina, Marketa Vondrousova and Daria Kasatkina made it safely through, Zheng Qinwen, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Katie Boulter were among 8 seeds to fall in the 2nd-round after receiving byes.

"It's not about being confident. It's about how much you're ready to do to get it. It's about the hard work and to be ready, be ready for the big fights. I feel like confidence is not going to help you in those big matches. It's about staying there, and fighting for it. I will say, I will be there, I will be fighting for every point and, if I have an opportunity, I will take it. That's my mentality going into the clay season this year. Aryna Sabalenka

Sabalenka was made to work hard, severely tested by Linette, a 48th-ranked Pole, before the Belarusian eventually prevailed, 6-4 3-6 6-3, after a 2 hour 9 minute battle.

The defending Madrid champion is eying a record-tying 3rd title in Spain’s capital, but has been slightly off her game of late, and has won back-to-back matches at a tournament just once since her title defence at the Australian Open in January, with a middling 4-4 record, all 3-set matches.

“I feel, like, I kind of, dropped my level a little bit with this ‘Big Three’,” Sabalenka said ahead of the tournament, referring to World No 1 Iga Swiatek and Rybakina. “I feel, like, it’s the ‘Big Two’ last month.”

Linette is on-form, a finalist in Rouen just last week, and played confidently to push Sabalenka to the edge, but, on the verge of self-destruction, the Belarusian found her way back.

After earning the first break of the match in the 3rd game, Sabalenka saved 2 break points before routinely holding on to her serve for the remainder of the opening set, taking it on a net-cord winner.

Now down a set, Linette earned her first break in the 4th game of the second, which was enough to send the match into a decider.

Sabalenka was twice on the edge of tumbling down by a break in the decider, but she managed to save a break point in the 1st game, and then 2 more in the 7th when Lady Luck smiled again on her as Linette was 2 points from levelling the set at 4-4.

Another let-cord on break point, allowed the No 2 seed to convert, and she managed to close out the narrowest of wins.

“It’s not about being confident,” Sabalenka said. “It’s about how much you’re ready to do to get it. It’s about the hard work and to be ready, be ready for the big fights.

“I feel like confidence is not going to help you in those big matches. It’s about staying there, and fighting for it.

“I will say, I will be there, I will be fighting for every point and, if I have an opportunity, I will take it. That’s my mentality going into the clay season this year.”

As the 2nd-round draws to a close, Sabalenka is the only one of the top 4 seeds to drop a set, Swiatek, Coco Gauff, and Rybakina having cruised in their opening matches.

A clean, no-drama win in the next round against American Robin Montgomery would certainly help to steady the Belarusian ship.

19-year old Robin Montgomery came from a set down to upset Katie Boulter, the No 26 seed, in Madrid on Friday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Montgomery, a 19-year-old wild-card who is ranked 183 in the world, stunned Britain’s Katie Boulter, the No 26 seed, 1-6 6-3 6-4, in what was the first time she has won consecutive matches in a WTA main draw.

It was also the American left-hander’s first Top 50 win since 2022.

For Boulter, it was a disappointing loss, after she started strongly, easily winning the first set and looking well in command, but Montgomery suddenly found her range and turned the tables.

“I think I wasn’t patient with myself after a set and a half and, I think, that’s in my control, so that’s something I will be going back to myself, and asking questions on, and I can’t allow that to happen ever again,” Boulder said. “I felt like I just allowed myself to let it slip away a little bit, and the only time I really relaxed was in the end of the third set, when she was ultimately playing some better tennis.

“Credit to her, she’s someone that’s going to go out there and hit some big balls. She’s also missed a few but she tied it all together and played a great service game to close it out, so credit to her.”

Boulter admits to being inexperienced on the clay.

“I just need to play more on it, I think I need to play more matches, I think I need to get more comfortable but at the same time I think my level showed for the first hour,” she said. “I’m a set and a break up, I should be closing that match out and, ultimately, I thought there was some really good stuff, I just let it get away from me, as sometimes you do.”

Elena Rybakina took just 75 minutes to see off Lucia Bronzetti and advance to round 3 at La Caja Magica

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Meanwhile, 4th-seeded Rybakina saw off Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti, 6-4 6-3, to progress into the round-of-16, where she will play Mayar Sherif from Egypt, who upset Marta Kostyuk, the No 25 seed from Ukraine.

Early in the first set, Rybakina broke Bronzetti, although she got broken back in the following game, but the Kazakh still won the first set after breaking her again in the 10th when the Italian was serving to stay in the opener.

After pocketing the first set, Rybakina dropped her serve in the opening game to start the second, but she then responded impressively by claiming back-to-back breaks to go 4-1 up.

Serving for the match, Rybakina converted her first match point to seal the straight sets win after just 75 minutes.

Rybakina leads the tour in titles, with 3 this year, 27 match wins, and 5 finals appearances for the season so far, and she is 2nd in the Race to the WTA Finals, hot on the heels of Swiatek.

Marketa Vondrousova had little difficulty dispatching Shelby Rogers on Friday

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Meanwhile, No 7 seed Marketa Vondrousova from the Czech Republic, the reigning Wimbledon champion, got her campaign off to a winning start with a 6-1 6-3 win over American Shelby Rogers, and will meet Mirra Andreeva from Russia, who battled past fellow teenager, Czech Linda Noskova, 4-6 6-3 6-3.

Another Russian, Daria Kasatkina, the No 10 seed, came through a roller-coaster tussle with Spaniard Cristina Bucsa to claim a 5-7 7-6(5) 6-3 win at the Caja Magica.

Bucsa came from 1-5 down and set point down to win the opening set, and then led 5-2 with two breaks in the second, but she couldn’t serve it out at 5-3, and Kasatkina hit back superbly to seal the win.

The Russian will face her compatriot, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the No 20 seed, next, who was a 6-1 6-4 winner over Aussie Daria Saville.

Rybakina’s next opponent, Sherif, snapped her 6-match losing streak after playing the best match of her season to take down Kostyuk in 2 sets in an hour and 34 minutes.

Sherif’s win was just one sign of a tough day for the top seeds in Madrid on Friday, with 8 in the bottom half of the draw making an their early 2nd-round exits, highlighted by No 6 seed Zheng Qinwen, who fell to Yulia Putintseva, after she led the Australian Open finalist 7-5, 2-0 when the Chinese decided she could not continue the match due to a right thigh injury.

Putintseva, who hails from Kazakhstan, will face American Caroline Dolehide in the 3rd-round after the World No 56 rode the wave of upsets to her second Top 40 win of the season, beating the No 30 seed from Ukraine, Anhelina Kalinina, 6-7(6) 6-2 6-3.

Ashlyn Krueger joined her compatriot in the 3rd-round after the 19-year-old American overpowered 14th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova from Russia, 6-3 6-3.

Czech qualifier Sara Bejlek backed up her 1st-round win over Anna Blinkova from Russia to knock out another, Dubai finalist and 24th seed Anna Kalinskaya, 6-1 6-4.

The 18-year old next will face Krueger in an all-teenage duel, with a first WTA 1000 Round of 16 appearance on the line for each of them.

Danielle Collins closed out play on Day 4 well past midnight when she came from from a set and a break down to survive Olga Danilovic in a match breaker at La Caja Magica

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

As the day session neared its end, Romania’s Jaqueline Cristian engineered a spirited effort to oust yet another Czech, No 22 seed Barbora Krejcikova, 2-6 6-0 6-2.

After bouncing back to win 6 straight games in the second set, Cristian came from a break down in the third to win the last 5 games of the match.

Late in the night, Danielle Collins extended her current winning streak to 14 matches in a row, battling back from a set and a break down to survive Olga Danilovic, a qualifier from Serbia, 4-6 6-4 7-6(8).

Collins saw 5 match points come and go in the match breaker before squeaking past 23-year-old left-hander at 12.30am local time.

While Danilovic sneaked out a rare set against Collins, the American has still won 28 of the last 30 sets she has played.

She will now face one of this year’s top clay-courters when she faces Cristian, another qualifier, in a first meeting between her and the World No 73.

Finally, France’s Caroline Garcia, the No 21 seed, dispatched China’s Wang Xinyu, 6-1 6-4, to set up  3rd-round contest with Italian Jasmine Paolini, who cruised past 18-year old Andorran wild-card Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva, 6-0 6-1.



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