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Madrid Saturday: Stephens Returns

Sloane Stephens returns to the European clay that brought her so much success in 2012, taking on Daniela Hantuchova in the first round of the Mutua Madrid Open.

Published May 03, 2013 11:53

Madrid Saturday: Stephens Returns
Sloane Stephens

MADRID, Spain - Saturday sees Sloane Stephens attempt to get back to winning ways against Daniela Hantuchova, while one of last year's clay court standouts, Sara Errani, kicks off her campaign at the Mutua Madrid Open against Urszula Radwanska.

Saturday, First Round

Manolo Santana
Sloane Stephens (USA #17) vs. Daniela Hantuchova (SVK #76)
Head-to-head:
first meeting
Such is the strength of the draw in the Spanish capital, World No.17 Sloane Stephens goes into the tournament unseeded. Yet despite her lofty ranking, the young American is struggling at present and is without back-to-back wins since her Australian Open breakthrough in January. But, after failing to make an impression on the hardcourts of Indian Wells and Miami, Stephens will look to take sanctuary away from the US media spotlight on the European clay.

Fleet of foot and with solid, yet potent, groundstrokes, Stephens' game is ideally suited to clay - as she proved in reaching the fourth round at last year's French Open - and first up at La Caja Mágica she faces another player searching for her best form, Daniela Hantuchova. Despite her struggles, Hantuchova has posted wins over Sara Errani and Maria Kirilenko this year and will be eager to impress having missed the the entire clay court season in 2012 with a foot injury.

[7] Sara Errani (ITA #7) vs. Urszula Radwanska (POL #32)
Head-to-head:
Errani leads 1-0
With 29 wins, four titles and a Roland Garros runner-up trophy, Sara Errani can lay claim to being 2012's outstanding - or at least most consistent - performer on clay. However, one of her few disappointments on the dirt came in Madrid, where Agnieszka Radwanska brought her campaign - and a 16-match clay court win streak - to an end in the second round.

This time around she faces another Radwanska, younger sister Urszula. Although not quite such a tricky proposition as her Top 5-ranked sibling, Urszula has been playing the best tennis of her career over the past 12 months or so, and, with three Top 10 wins to her name, she is also no stranger to an upset either.

Stadium 3
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL #22) vs. Mona Barthel (GER #30)
Head-to-head:
series tied 1-1
This time last year, Kirsten Flipkens was outside the Top 200 and in the middle of an eight-week spell on the sidelines after suffering blood clots in her calf. Twelve months and 55 wins later, Flipkens sits at a career-high ranking of No.22, her confidence sky high after a series of impressive showings at several of the game's biggest events.

Flipkens' pleasing mixture of court craft and aggression took her to the quarterfinals in Miami and the fourth round at the Australian Open, befuddling plenty of higher-ranked foes along the way. In Mona Barthel, though, she is coming up against an opponent who is unaccustomed to playing second fiddle to anyone in the shot making department. Barthel possesses point-ending power of either wing, which Flipkens found out to her cost during a straight set defeat earlier this year in Hobart.

Around the grounds…
Preceding Flipkens and Barthel on court will be Julia Goerges against Bojana Jovanovski and the battle of the big hitters between Sabine Lisicki and Sofia Arvidsson, elsewhere, Alizé Cornet, Laura Robson and the in-form Spanish wildcard Lourdes Domínguez Lino are all in action.

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