Madrid | Survivor Sabalenka gets Collins in Last 16

World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka survived the second challenge to her Mutua Madrid Open title defence, squeaking past Robin Montgomery in 3 sets on Sunday, and she now must face Danielle Collins, who extended her winning streak to 15 matches in a row after battling back from a set down against Jaqueline Cristian to keep her unbeaten run alive.

I've been doing so well the last couple of weeks, I think the girls know that when they come out and play me, they gotta go for it... Ultimately, I had to serve and return very well in both of those matches to be able to try to get it done. It’s to be expected when you've had this many wins, that people are going to up their game. They have to, so I'm ready for it, as much as I can be. Danielle Collins

Sabalenka produced a stunning effort in Madrid last year to land her first WTA 1000 clay title, which she sealed in some style by outplaying clay-court specialist and World No 1 Iga Swiatek in the final.

This year, though, the Belarusian has barely scraped through her first two matches here, while her season has been patchy since she successfully defended her Australian Open title in January.

Sabalenka did, however, pass the challenging test against Montgomery, a 19-year-old American wild-card, eventually prevailing 6-1 6-7(5) 6-4 in 2 hours and 29 minutes to keep alive her bid of becoming only the second woman to win in Madrid 3 times, after Petra Kvitova won here in 2011, 2015 and 2018.

The opening set was an easy cruise for Sabalenka, who pocketed it after 41 minutes of play, and it seemed likely that she would win the match in straight sets, but the World No 183 ended up pushing the 2nd seed to the limit as she became accustomed to the Belarusian’s power.

The second proved more competitive, and neither dropped serve up to 3-3 when Sabalenka put added pressure on her opponent, creating a chance to break, but she failed to convert, and the left-handed American teenager captured the ensuing tiebreak to push the contest into the tiebreak, in which she found sufficient edge to force a decider.

Sabalenka lost an early break in the third, with Montgomery now keeping pace through 4-4, but, after a thunderous hold for 5-4, the Belarusian rose to the occasion in the following game, lining up triple match point with an un-returnable overhead.

Montgomery netted a forehand on Sabalenka’s first match point, and the World No 2 made it through the evening, capturing her 8th straight win in Madrid.

“I’m super happy with the win, she played unbelievable tennis,” said Sabalenka on court. “I expected something like that, she’s young, I saw her games, and I was prepared for a great battle.”

Danielle Collins came from a set down to beat Jaqueline Cristian and set up a Last 16 duel with Aryna Sabalenka

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Sabalenka’s next opponent, Danielle Collins, will be an even tougher test, after the American bagged yet another accolade by progressing to the 4th round of the 2024 Madrid Open, joining Serena Williams, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with her remarkable feat of 15 straight wins after turning 30.

Collins, who has announced that she is retiring later this year, is making the most of her farewell season.

In March, the Floridian won 7 straight matches to clinch the biggest title of her career at the WTA 1000 Miami Open in front of her home crowd, and then extended her dominance by winning the WTA 500 Charleston Open title the following week, becoming the first player to win the two tournaments back-to-back since Serena Williams in 2013.

In Madrid she has extended her wining streak after victories over Olga Danilovic, 4-6 6-4 7-6(8), and Jaqueline Cristian, 3-6 6-4 6-1.

“I’ve been doing so well the last couple of weeks, I think the girls know that when they come out and play me, they gotta go for it,” Collins said afterwards. “That certainly was taking place the last two matches, some big shots that I’ve had to counter, and be able to react quickly.

“Ultimately, I had to serve and return very well in both of those matches to be able to try to get it done. It’s to be expected when you’ve had this many wins, that people are going to up their game. They have to, so I’m ready for it, as much as I can be.”

Collins lost just one set across her title runs in Miami and Charleston, but her famous fighting qualities have been in full use through the first week in Madrid.

She came from a set down in her opening match against Serbia’s Danilovic, winning that match 10-8 in a third-set tiebreak, and, against Cristian, she faced down one of the most in-form clay-court players on tour.

The Romanian came into the match having won 8 of her 10 clay-court matches this season, including wins over Madison Keys and Emma Navarro in Charleston, and 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in the previous round in Madrid.

Just one break of serve separated the two through the first two sets, with Cristian taking the early advantage in the first set after breaking for a 4-2 lead, but Collins bounced back to break in the final game of the second set to force a decider.

Having worked her way back into the match, Collins dominated the final frame, and closed out the win with her 8th ace of the match after 2 hours and 1 minute.

Collins and Sabalenka have faced 4 times on the tour, with the Belarusian leading their head-to-head 4-0, but this will be their first meeting on clay, and while the odds are in the Belarusian’s favour, the American will hope to bank on her momentum as she bids for the Madrid Open title after her ins in Miami and Charleston.

World No 4 Elena Rybakina cruised past Mayar Sherif in straight sets to make the round of 16 in Madrid

© Finney/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Elena Rybakina, the 4th seed from Kazakhstan, cruised into the Last 16 with a 6-1 6-4 win over Egypt’s Mayar Sherif, who advanced to the 3rd-round after winning back-to-back matches for the first time this season.

“I think we played really well in the whole match,” Rybakina said, “Despite the score, it was a very tough match. It was a lot of deuces and we both fought a lot. I’m really happy with the performance today.”

Rybakina battled to a 5-0 lead in the first set, although Sherif kept the games close.

The Egyptian saved 6 break points in the second game of the match before Rybakina finally broke through for a 2-0 lead, and, ultimately, Sherif’s grinding baseline game proved no match for the World No 4, who smartly attacked the net to stay aggressive and shorten the points, while her finishing was clinical.

18-year old Sara Bejlek made light work of Ashlyn Krueger and faces one of the toughest tests against Elena Rybakina in Madrid.

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The victory is Rybakina’s tour-leading 28th win of the season, and she now faces Sara ©, an 18-year-old Czech qualifier, who is tasked with stopping the Stuttgart champion’s latest winning streak.

The young left-hander, making her WTA 1000 main-draw debut this week, has been punching above her weight, scoring the first 3 WTA main-draw wins of her career at any level.

Standing at just 5-foot-2, she has beaten Anna Blinkova, Anhelina Kalinskaya and Ashlyn Krueger to earn her shot at Rybakina, who has won her last 6 matches.

On Sunday, Bejlek has little trouble taking out Krueger, a young American, 6-3 6-1, in 71 minutes.

Bejlek grew up idolising Petra Kvitova’s big-hitting baseline power game, and had been hoping to grow be a bit taller, but when she didn’t, Bejlek went looking for another player to emulate, and chose Rafa Nadal.

“[Kvitova and I] are both from the same country, and we’re both lefties,” Bejlek told reporters. “I still didn’t know that I’m going to be so small, that I’m not going to play her game. So Rafa and Petra were my idols.”

Ranked No 136 at the start of the week, Bejlek is one of a group of talented Czech teenagers making their way onto the highest levels of the Hologic WTA Tour.

Bejlek is still chasing her Top 100 debut, but making inroads after successfully qualifying for the Australian Open and French Open, and winning 3 titles on the ITF Circuit before landing the biggest title of her career at the WTA 125K in Colina, Chile.

This week in Madrid, her run moves her ever closer to the Top 100, but she faces one of the toughest tests in tennis in the next round – Rybakina.

“I’ve never played against a player like this,” Bejlek said, “but I will try my best, and we’ll see how it will go tomorrow. But I’m looking forward to that match.”

Mirra Andreeva upset reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova and will play Jasmine Paolini next

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Meanwhile, in her last match as a 16-year-old, Mirra Andreeva beat Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, 7-5 6-1, to make it through to the Last 16 in Madrid for the second year in a row.

Andreeva raced out to 4-1 leads in both sets, but she needed to reel the Czech 7th seed back in when she lost 4 games in a row to trail 5-4, by winning 9 of the last 10 games, and delivering a sublime serving performance in the second set, landing 93% of her first serves, and losing just 9 points in the set total.

The Russian celebrates her 17th birthday on Monday when she takes on Italy’s Jasmine Paolini, the 12th seed, who dispatched France’s Caroline Garcia, 6-3 6-2, for a spot in the quarter-finals.

“I feel more mature, even though there’s not much of a difference in my age,” Andreeva said. “Last year, I was hoping for some kind of miracle when I was playing against everybody, that on these pressure points, they would give me something with their mistakes or something will happen for me to just win the match.

“Now I know and I’m sure that I will not be able to win a match without doing something myself.”

Completing the lineup of the Last 16 in the lower half of the draw is Daria Kasatkina, the 10th seed, who saw off Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the No 20 seed, 7-6(5) 7-5, in a very tight all-Russian affair.

Kasatkina will play Yulia Putintseva for a place in the quarters after the Kazakh was an easy 6-2 6-2 winner over American Caroline Dolehide.



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