Photo : WTA
Aryna Sabalenka got her revenge on Iga Swiatek by beating the Queen of Clay in a tightly contested championship match in Madrid 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. It was the second consecutive tournament where the world’s top two players faced each other for the title.
The win in Madrid marks the first time that Sabalenka has defeated Swiatek on clay. Their three prior meetings on the surface were one-sided affairs won by the World No. 1, including the semifinals in Rome in 2022 by a score of 6-2, 6-1, the final in Stuttgart in 2022 by a 6-2, 6-2 margin and at the same location once again just two weeks ago where Swiatek also prevailed 6-3, 6-4.
Following her triumph, Sabalenka had the following to say about her win over Swiatek and how she managed tactically to defeat her on the surface:
“I stick to the plan and I think that was the key today, that I didn’t over-rush things and I was waiting for a better shot to go for powerful shots. I was sticking to the plan from the beginning till the end.”
The career head-to-head between the world’s two best players now stands at 5-3 in Swiatek’s favour, but her aura of invincibility on clay has now been taken down a notch as we inch closer to Roland Garros.
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Swiatek had the following assessment after the match, admitting that her opponent perhaps took a few more risks than she did on this particular day:
“Sometimes it was about a few shots that I could play a little bit better. She played some shots in that were risky. Maybe sometimes I could be more proactive, but honestly I think we both played good. I don’t have any like big regrets.”
The result here in Madrid adds some uncertainty to the upcoming major at Roland Garros, where up until this victory from Sabalenka it was looking like Swiatek was almost a lock to capture her third title on the clay of Paris.
Rest of the Field
Other players who handled themselves well in Madrid included 12th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, who battled through four consecutive three-set matches before falling to Swiatek in the semis. In each of her victories Kudermetova dropped the middle frame before rebounding to take the match in the decisive set.
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Ninth-seeded Maria Sakkari advanced to the semifinals in the bottom half of the draw before being taken out by Sabalenka. The Greek star took-out solid clay court player Paula Badosa in the round of sixteen in straight sets which definitely announced her potential on the surface.
Youth was served in Madrid with the just-turned-16-year-old Mirra Andreeva advancing to the round of sixteen after defeating Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez, 13th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia and 17th seed Magda Linette before falling to eventual champion Sabalenka. Just a few months ago Andreeva was making the Aussie Open Junior Girls final, but it seems like she’s more than ready to play at the professional level after this coming-out party of hers. Andreeva had won back-to-back ITF titles coming into the Madrid Open and she’s definitely shown that she’s one to watch moving forward. Over the past two weeks her ranking has soared from No. 243 to No. 146 on the WTA.
Read also: Doubles a Saving Grace for Canadians in Madrid
One other surprising story in the women’s singles draw in Madrid was that of 27-year-old Egyptian tennis player Mayar Sherif, who made her way to the quarterfinals. Along the way she defeated 2021 National Bank Open champion Camila Giorgi, 30th seed Anhelina Kalinina, fifth seed Caroline Garcia and 24th seed Elise Mertens before bowing out to Sabalenka. She jumps up the rankings from 59th to 43rd (a career-high) after her big week.
Bianca Andreescu made her return to the court merely a month after tearing two ligaments in her left ankle in the round of sixteen in Miami. Despite falling in her opening match to Wang Xiyu 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-2, it was a positive sign just to have her back playing a competitive match so soon after that horrific-looking injury. Andreescu used to say that clay was her favourite surface, and she can still be a threat on the red dirt as Roland Garros approaches.
Genie Bouchard continued to make strides in her most recent comeback by qualifying for the main draw in Madrid and then obtaining her first WTA 1000 level win on clay since this very tournament back in 2017. That win came over none other than Maria Sharapova, while this year she defeated fellow qualifier Dayana Yastremska.
Bouchard went down in the second round to the 18th-seeded Martina Trevisan by a score of 6-2, 7-5 but a main draw win at a tournament of this calibre is certainly cause for optimism for her supporters. Bouchard is now working with Eric Hechtman, former coach of both Serena and Venus Williams.
Despite falling early in the singles draw, Leylah Annie Fernandez again enjoyed a strong run in doubles with partner Taylor Townsend, as the duo made it to the semifinals before losing to eventual champions Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Haddad Maia.
Finally, Rebecca Marino won her opening match against Zhu Lin, getting a little revenge against a player who had defeated her twice already in 2023, but then fell against veteran Elise Mertens in the second round.
Similar to the singles final, the top seeds in doubles also fell in the championship match in Madrid as Victoria Azarenka and Beatriz Haddad Maia bested the No. 1 tandem of Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula 6-1, 6-4 in the women’s doubles final.
It’s a fifth WTA 1000 doubles title for Azarenka and a first for her partner Haddad Maia, who had twice before been a finalist at this level.