Madrid | Swiatek and Gauff lead the charge into second week

Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff and Maria Sakkari cruised into the Last 16 of the Mutua Madrid Open on Saturday, facing few problems, while Ons Jabeur had to go the distance, but Victoria Azarenka and Liudmila Samsonova were upset by Sara Sorribes Tormo and Madison Keys respectively.

[It’s] Still a long way to go. Every tournament is a different story. It doesn’t really matter what happened last year. I think that match was called the match of the year. Pretty good tennis here. I just want to use the experience I had last year, and try to do the best work possible, and do everything step by step. Iga Świątek

World No 1 Swiatek continued her dominance of Sorana Cirstea, the No 27 seed from Romania, 6-1 6-1, playing under the closed roof of Manolo Santana Stadium at the Caja Mágica, and needing only 78 minutes to advance.

As the rain drenched the outside courts, the different conditions indoors did not unsettle Swiatek as she stamped her authority on the occasion, despite not knowing until 15 minutes before the match whether the roof would be open or closed.

“I was ready for both scenarios,” Swiatek said post-match, “but, for sure, it felt a little bit like Roland Garros 2020 because of the weather today, and I knew that I can play well in these conditions.”

The 22-year old Pole, who has not lost to a player ranked outside the Top 20 at a WTA 1000 event in 4 years, celebrates her 100th week as the World No 1 this week, joining an elite list of players like Steffi Graf, Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert to become the 9th player in WTA history to have this milestone.

Swiatek claimed the top spot of WTA rankings when Ash Barty announced her retirement in April 2022, and held her position for 75 weeks before succumbing to Aryna Sabalenka after she lost to Jelena Ostapenko in the 4th round at the 2023 US Open title in September 2023.

The 4-time Grand Slam champion regained the World No 1 ranking after winning the 2023 WTA Finals in November after defeating Jessica Pegula in the championship match.


World No 1 Iga Swiatek is considered the best clay-courter in the game but the conditions in Madrid are tricky and she is taking everything step by step

© Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images

On Saturday, playing the opening match, she offered Cirstea few chances, although the Romanian had 2 in the first game before being broken, which set the tone for a match in which Swiatek, last year’s finalist in Madrid, won 5 straight games in each set, after narrowly failing to serve out a bagel in the opener.

In all, Swiatek created 14 break point opportunities against the Cirstea serve, and converted 5 of them, while the Romanian could only conjure up 2, both in the first set.

Swiatek is now 26-4 on the year, and will face Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo for a spot in the quarter-finals.

“For sure the weather is different than last year, but still, I know how to play in these kind of conditions,” Swiatek said. “I felt pretty comfortable.

“The only thing is that I had to wake up in the morning really early, but I’m really happy I could play in a solid way. Now I have the whole day off.”

It was a trademark performance from the World No 1, who dominated from the baseline to sprint into the second week.

“[It’s] Still a long way to go. Every tournament is a different story,” she told the media about the prospect of landing the title in Madrid for the first time. “It doesn’t really matter what happened last year. I think that match was called the match of the year. Pretty good tennis here.

“I just want to use the experience I had last year, and try to do the best work possible, and do everything step by step.”

Undoubtedly the best clay court player in the women’s game, Swiatek remains the heavy favourite in Madrid this week, despite her semi-final loss to Elena Rybakina in Stuttgart last week.

Madrid, though, is undoubtedly the toughest clay challenge for Swiatek, with the slight altitude at the Caja Magica playing to the advantage of big hitters like 2-time champion Sabalenka and Rybakina.

Next, though, Swiatek first must deal with home favourite Sorribes Tormo, who has beaten Elina Svitolina and Azarenka to make the 4th-round, but has yet to take a set off the Pole in 3 previous meetings.

In front of her home crowd, Sorribes Tormo took out 2-time Madrid champion Azarenka in a physical marathon of a contest, upsetting the No 23 seed from Belarus, 7-6(0) 6-3, after 2 hours and 50 minutes, which is the longest straight-sets match of 2024 so far.


Coco Gauff, the No 3 seed, got past Dayana Yastremska in straight sets on Day 5 in Madrid

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World No 3 Coco Gauff almost let her first set slip away to Dayana Yastremska, the No 31 seed, before getting herself back on track to shut down the Ukrainian, 6-4 6-1.

Gauff came into the match off an incredible double bagel win against Arantxa Rus from the Netherlands, and she started the first set brightly, winning the first 5 games against Yastremska with another impeccable streak of consecutive games, and holding a set point to boot, but the Ukrainian recovered and managed to hold her serve for the first time.

Yastremska then seized the momentum and won 4 consecutive games as Gauff briefly faltered, including 2 breaks in her favour, while saving 4 set points against her as she narrowed the score from 0-5 to 4-5.

Serving to level the set, Yastremska faltered and Gauff capitalised on a single break opportunity to land the set after the Ukrainian made an unforced error that ended up in the net.

“It was tough playing, honestly, because she was missing a lot,” Gauff said afterwards. “When she started making balls, it was hard to find the rhythm because I hadn’t had any. So I was trying to find the difference between trying to be aggressive and letting the errors come.”

After grabbing the first set, Gauff took command of the second, dropping just 1 game to finish the match in an hour and 17 minutes.

While Gauff had only a 52% first-serve percentage, she won 82% of them, unlike Yastremska, who had a 63% first-serve percentage but only won 48% of them, exposed to the American’s good returns.

Gauff next will face fellow American Madison Keys, the No 18 seed, who impressively beat Liudmila Samsonova, seeded 15 and from Russia, 6-2 6-3, in 75 minutes.


Ons Jabeur had to come from behind to defeat Leylah Fernandez, and win her first back-to-back matches of the year

WTAtennis.com

Ons Jabeur, the No 8 seed from Tunisia, won won back-to-back matches for the first time this year, but had to go the distance to do so, needing 2 hours and 24 minutes to fight her way past Leylah Fernandez, the Canadian No 32 seed.

She had to come from 2-4 down in the third set to win, 7-5 2-6 6-4, against the former US Open finalist.

It was a tough test for the Tunisian, who was the champion in Madrid in 2022, but has struggled with injuries and fitness, both this year and last.

She also had to pull off a come-back in the first set, battling from a 0-3 deficit to steal the one-set lead, but Fernandez dominated the second, in which Jabeur struck just 1 winner.

In the decider, Fernandez saved 7 of the 8 break points she faced during her run to a 4-2 lead, but powerful returning by Jabeur gave her a love break in the following game, putting the Tunisian back on serve.

That proved the turning point, as Jabeur ground out one more service break to lead 5-4, and then served for the match, converting her 35th winner of the day off the forehand side on her first match point.

Jabeur’s win set up a Top 10 showdown in the Last 16 with Jelena Ostapenko, the No 9 seed from Latvia, who moved past Argentine qualifier Maria Lourdes Carle, 6-3 6-3, after an hour and 29 minutes.

Ostapenko, the 2017 Roland Garros champion, has posted her career-best Madrid showing this week, having never advanced beyond the Round of 32 in her 6 previous appearances in the Spanish capital.

Carle, the World No 82, had notched her first Top 20 win in the previous round over Russian Veronika Kudermetova, after trouncing Britain’s Emma Raducanu in her opening main draw match, and the Argentine was aiming for an even bigger win on Saturday, in her first career meeting with a Top 10 player.

The start was a true tussle, with the first 6 games going against serve, but Ostapenko eventually took charge of the first set, winning all 6 of Carle’s second-service points.

The Latvian fell behind an early break in the second, but that was a momentary blip as the World No 10 reeled off 6 of the next 7 games to clinch her 19th match-win of the year.


Maria Sakkari made surprisingly easy work of Sloane Stephens and will meet Beatriz Haddad Maia in the Last 16 in Madrid

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Other winners on Saturday included No 5 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, who made surprisingly easy work of American Sloane Stephens, 6-1 6-3, who had won 7 straight matches prior to this loss, while Beatriz Haddad Maia, the No 11 seed from Brazil, outlasted another American, 19th-seeded Emma Navarro, 6-4 6-4.

In a clash between former Madrid semi-finalists, Sakkari needed just 63 minutes to ease past Stephens, the World No 33, to record her 18th win in her last 19 matches against players ranked outside the Top 30.

The Greek was pristine in the first set, making only 3 unforced errors, and she broke Stephens in the first game of the second as well to take a commanding lead.

Stephens, a former World No 3 and last week’s Rouen champion, fought back on serve in the next game, attempting to keep her winning streak alive, but Sakkari reclaimed her lead at 4-3 after forcing an error long, and the Greek cruised home from there.

It was a disappointing loss for Navarro on her debut in Madrid this year, but the experienced clay-courter Haddad Maia proved too tough an opponent.

The American went down an early break but immediately got back on serve after pouncing in a lengthy game, but the World No 14 regained her advantage a couple of games later, and saved 3 break points to close out the set.

Both women failed to capitalise on chances to break early in the second, but it was Navarro who was constantly under pressure.

After saving 8 break points in the set, the World No 23 finally succumbed, and the Brazilian served out the win in under 2 hours.


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