The second round was completed on Tuesday, with world No.1 Naomi Osaka surviving a scare and a major upset taking place.
The mission for Jo Konta was a difficult one, as she faced reigning double-WTA champion Simona Halep, widely considered the best clay-courter in women’s tennis, given her three Roland Garros finals, punctuated by her 2018 win. However, despite ultimately coming up short, the British No.1 competed on almost equal terms, at least in the first set, confirming the good run of form of her Rabat final last week, playing her seventh match in eight days.
She tried to take the early momentum, earning a break point with a swinging backhand volley down the line, which Halep saved with an unreturnable serve to the T. The break was ripe for the taking anyway, with Konta stepping into the court on every shot and hitting aggressively on Halep’s second serve with the backhand, and wrong-footing her twice, taking the upper hand at 2-1. After that, Konta lacked the killer instinct to get a second break, missing a forehand return off of Halep’s second serve while on a 30-40 lead in the seventh game.
From there on, the game’s allegiance switched to another master, with Konta piling up forehand unforced errors. Halep immediately earned three break points, even following the latest tactical trend, with a powerful forehand approach down the middle of the court off a short, high ball. Konta saved the first one with a nice forehand combination, but ultimately gave in. She managed to save two set points in the tenth game, but Halep’s return was rolling like clockwork now, and in the next game couldn’t capitalise on two more break opportunities, ultimately falling on the fifth occasion with a wide cross-court backhand after an hour of great tennis.
The second set didn’t have much left to offer. Halep broke to love with a backhand return winner that left Konta a few yards from the ball. She then took another 0-40 lead in the fourth game, breaking on the second chance, closing the second set in less than half an hour, setting up a meeting with Slovakian Viktoria Kuzmova.
Konta can still feel satisfied for her performance the past two weeks, really coming in her own as a clay player, as showcased by her well-disguised drop shot, and will be able to look with confidence at next week’s event in Rome.
Naomi Osaka had to overcome a few woes as she proceeded to obtain her second main draw win in Madrid against home wildcard Sara Sorribes Tormo.
The Spaniard showed great ease moving around the court, chasing balls down and pushing the world No.1 to the limit, despite hitting just eight winners, proving herself a better player than her ranking of 73 shows. Osaka doesn’t usually adjust her game, gifted as she is with overwhelming groundstrokes, especially her forehand, and simply steamrolls her opponents until they can’t hold their arm straight, but today she had to resort to a more patient point construction, after Sorribes repeatedly managed to retrieve her strikes, often forcing her to make mistakes – Osaka finished with a staggering amount of 47, to 46 winners. Sorribes’s effective nuclear deterrent was the slice backhand, which often obliged the Japanese-Haitian champion to bend her knees more than she is used to, betraying an at times imperfect footwork.
Osaka’s other bane was a too relaxed attitude, which saw her immediately surrendering her lead three times, in the fourth and eighth game of the first set, and in the third game of the second set, as well as in the tie-break, when she almost blew a 5-1 lead. However, as she stated after her first round win, these moments are what she trains for, and she managed to summon her inner serenity to close out the first set, after which her coach Jermaine Jenkins advised her to build up each point in a more careful way.
She would then need to calm herself again, for after a 10-minutes-long game that kept Sorribes alive behind a few grievous mistakes from the 2-time Slam champion (a forehand approach hit right into the net on a deuce stands out here), the home player broke her twice to love, taking the match into a decider.
However, Osaka wasn’t going to lose her nerve anymore, and she started to infuse more rotation on her cross-court forehand, building up to hit more decisive shots, as her opponent’s slice started to falter a bit – the Spaniard’s game took its toll, reminding a little of Murray’s French Open defeat against Wawrinka two years ago, when the then world champion gave up after four set of barricades. After a hard-fought first game, the match was virtually over, resulting in perhaps too harsh a score for such a brave performance, as Osaka progressed with a wide ace. her next opponent will be Belarus’s Aljaksandra Sasnovich, who easily dispatched Czech qualifier Schmiedlova.
Other results of the day included a double defeat for the Pliskova twins, as world No.5 Karolina fell after a lengthy battle with rising Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Kozlova, confirming her bad feeling with clay, while her sister Kristyna fell against Donna Vekic. Finally, Kerber’s No.1 bid ended abruptly when she was forced to withdraw from her match with Petra Martic due to a right ankle injury:
A. Sasnovic (Blr, 33) d. A.K. Schmiedlova (Svk, 109, Q) 6-2 6-2
K. Kozlova (Ukr, 85, Q) d. Ka. Pliskova (Cze, 5) 7-5 2-6 6-4
S. Zheng (Chn, 49) d. A. Cornet (Fra, 54) 6-2 3-6 6-4
P. Martic (Cro, 36) d. A. Kerber (Ger, 4) ret.
C. Garcia (Fra, 22) d. S. Cirstea (Rom, 93, WC) 6-4 3-6 6-1
D. Vekic (Cro, 24) d. Kr. Pliskova (Cze, 94, Q) 6-4 6-4