Sunday proved to be a day of shocks at the Mutua Madrid Open as World No 2 Naomi Osaka was knocked out in the second round by Karolína Muchova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova dispatched Karolína Plískova, while Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of a lower back injury ahead of her match with Jessica Pegula.
It was a tough match today, but we had some preparation. I was ready to play with all I had today, and to use all the weapons I could and [do] what I can. I'm definitely happy it worked out today. Karolina Muchova
Safely into the round of 16, however, are Simona Halep, Aryna Sabalenka, Jennifer Brady, Elise Mertens and Maria Sakkari.
Clay is not a surface that the 4-time Grand Slam champion Osaka is entirely comfortable on, and Muchova is a formidable foe so perhaps the upset was not entirely unexpected.
Muchova, the World No 20, who has already defeated 2 top-five players this season, prevailed 6-4 3-6 6-1 in an hour 49 minutes at the Caja Magica.
Osaka was playing just her second match on the red clay since the 2019 French Open due to injury issues and became the latest victim to fall at the hands of the talented Czech.
The Japanese has now lost 2 of her last 3 matches, having been eliminated in the Miami Open quarter-finals by Sakkari at the end of March, the Tunisian is now lining up Muchova in her sights.
“I think today for me it was quite different from the last time I lost in Miami, and I actually think I played much better here, so I’m very happy about that,” Osaka said.
“I think what I can take away from this is that I tried my best throughout the entire match. I think tennis-wise, I felt I was too defensive in the first set.
“I wouldn’t say I’m happy that I lost, but I think I learned a lot. So that’s all I can hope for.”
Muchova survived a 2nd-set comeback by the No 2 seed in impressive form, striking 29 winners, 2 more than Osaka, and converting half of her 8 break points for the win.
Both displayed powerful serving in the first set, but Osaka faltered early, double-faulting down break point to concede a 2-1 lead to the Czech, and she could not recover the deficit as Muchova punched away a volley in the next game to save the only break point she faced before easing to a one-set lead.
She took early control in the second too, breaking for another 2-1 lead with continued aggression, but Osaka increased her intensity to earn her first break of the match with a forehand winner to level the set at 3-3.
Grabbing the momentum, the Japanese knocked off 5 games in a row to sweep through the rest of the set and level.
Although Muchova’s first-service percentage had dropped from 73 percent in the opener to 52 percent in the second set, she got herself back on track in the decider and secured the early break, after which she ran home to notch her 10th match-win of the year and claim her spot in the Madrid round of 16 after an hour 49 minutes.
“It was a tough match today, but we had some preparation,” Muchova told the press later. “I was ready to play with all I had today, and to use all the weapons I could and [do] what I can.
“I’m definitely happy it worked out today.”
Next up for Muchova is Sakkari, the No16 seed, who defeated Anett Kontaveit, 6-3 6-1, in a hair over an hour of play, the Greek dominating the Estonian, and saving both break points she faced in the match.
“We are great friends outside the court,” Sakkari said. “It’s always tough to play her, but I think I have played her the most out of every other WTA player.
“She has an overall good game. She plays good from both sides from the baseline, and you just have to stick to the strategy and, you know, try to do things the right way.
“I think today was very solid from every aspect,” Sakkari said. “I think I served well. Strategy-wise it worked really well, and I have nothing to complain about basically,” she added with a smile.
Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was in top form as she beat another former World No 1, 6th-seeded Karolína Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-0 7-5.
“Of course it’s a nice bonus to win the match, that’s what we play for, but I’m just happy overall with the way I’m playing,” Pavlyuchenkova said on court, after the match. “I’m building the confidence hopefully for the next matches and the next tournaments.”
Ranked 41, Pavlyuchenkova knocked out Pliskova with 20 winners to just 14 unforced errors, breaking the Czech’s vaunted serve 5 times in the match, while the Czech’s 13 winners were undone by a whopping 28 errors.
The 2018 Madrid semi-finalist coughed up 7 double-faults and could only break the Russian once in the match.
The bagel first set was over in a blink, with 10 of Pavlyuchenkova’s winners and only 2 of her unforced errors coming in that frame, but Pliskova made a charge in the second, ending the 7 game run by the Russian with her first break for 1-1, helped by a double-fault from the Russian on break point.
The pair blasted their way to 5-5 when Pliskova fired 2 wide miscues to drop serve again, and Pavlyuchenkova took her chance, serving out the match with ease.
Pavlyuchenkova now faces No 11 seed Jennifer Brady after the American easily dismissed former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, 6-2 6-1.
Brady, this year’s Australian Open runner-up, needed just 66 minutes to defeat the Latvian and move into Madrid’s 3rd round, in her first appearance in the main draw of the event.
Brady won 84 percent of her first-service points in the match, and never dropped serve as she followed up her first-round win over Venus Williams with her second consecutive straight-set victory.
Meanwhile, 2-time Madrid Open champion and 3rd seed Simona Halep booked her place in the 3rd round with a straight sets win over China’s Zheng Saisai, winning 9 games before sealing it, 6-0 6-4.
Halep has yet to drop a set here this year but, like in her opening-round win over Sara Sorribes Tormo, she had to hold off a late surge from her unseeded opponent to advance.
“It was almost the same [as the first round]… I was really focused in the last game and I just wanted to finish it,” Halep said in her on-court interview. “I think she played really well in the second set.
“It’s a great victory and I’m really happy about it.”
A pitch-perfect performance in 37 minutes allowed Halep to hand out a 6-0 opener for the second match in a row, although Zheng redeemed herself in the second to get on the scoreboard.
The World No 57 had 4 break points in the set, including 3 in the first game of the match, and also held 2 game points on her serve in the set’s final game before surrendering the bagel.
Zheng pushed hard in the second after winning her first game and broke Halep in the next and, later, saved a match point while serving at 0-6, 2-5 and again broke serve as the No 3 seed served for victory.
“I knew from the previous match that I had to just stay there and to stop missing, because she changed the rhythm,” Halep said. “She changed the tactics.
“I lost a little bit the timing on the ball. Those high balls were really tough to get, to do something with them.
“Then I started to miss with the forehand a little bit too much. I just said I have to calm down and just to play… an extra shot inside the court.”
Twelve of Halep’s 19 winners came in the opening set, and she converted 6 of the 11 break points she created overall.
Next up for the Romanian is a last-16 showdown with Belgium’s Elise Mertens, after the No 13 seed beat Elena Rybakina from Kazakstan, 7-6(4) 7-5, in the last of Sunday’s matches.
“Mertens, I’ve played a few times and I kind of know what she’s playing,” Halep said. “I know that it’s difficult because she’s going inside the court, stays at the baseline and likes to hit all the balls. It’s going to be tough.
“But I’m confident. It will be another match another day, so I will have my chance. I will fight for it.”
Earlier, 5th seed Aryna Sabalenka safely advanced thanks to a 6-3 6-3 win against Russia’s Daria Kasatkina.
Sabalenka was on course to face compatriot Victoria Azarenka for a place in the quarter-finals, but the older Belarusian withdrew from her match with Jessica Pegula because of a back injury.
“I’m very disappointed to withdraw from the tournament. It’s been a really disappointing season for me physically, where at times I’ve felt like I’m playing really well but I’m not able to sustain my level,” Azarenka said in a statement.
“I’m really looking forward to finding the solution and I hope I’ll do that soon and be back playing as soon as possible.”
Sabalenka notched her 20th match-win of the season with her 79-minute victory over the World No 37, improving to 6-1 on the clay this year as she extends a career-best showing at Madrid.
Former Top 10 player Kasatkina, a Madrid quarter-finalist in 2018, is having a resurgent season, with two singles titles already to her credit this year, but the powerful game of Sabalenka was too much for her on Sunday, as the Belarusian slammed 40 winners to the Russian 9 en route to victory, and converting 4 of her 10 break points to sweep to the win.
“She played really well, and it was really tough to play against her,” Sabalenka said on court, after her victory. “I just did what I could today, and I’m really happy with this win.”