MADRID, Spain - The Premier Mandatory Mutua Madrid Open is receiving even more attention than usual this year because it will be the first tournament in history to be played on blue clay - switching from its traditional red clay. Those famed blue courts will be broken in by a few former Grand Slam champions on the first day of main draw action.
Saturday, First Round
Simona Halep (ROU #47) vs. [WC] Venus Williams (USA #70)
Since returning from a seven month absence caused by Sjögren's syndrome, seven-time major champ Venus Williams has shown flashes of her former dominance by collecting three Top 20 wins en route to making quarterfinals in Miami and Charleston. Ranked No.137 as recently as February, Williams has soared 67 spots since then. Runner-up in Madrid in 2010, Williams' nine career clay court titles are just one behind Anabel Medina Garrigues for most amongst active players. Simona Halep is coming off her best result of the season - a semifinal showing in Fès that featured a 62 61 rout of No.1 seed Medina Garrigues in the quarterfinals. Halep's best two career results - runner-up showings at Fès in 2010 and 2011 - occurred on clay.
Petra Martic (CRO #51) vs.  Samantha Stosur (AUS #5)
After an up-and-down start to the season, the results for 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur have picked up as of late. Her semifinal showing last month in Charleston included a victory over Venus Williams. Later in the month, she recorded two singles victories for Australia in its Fed Cup triumph over Germany. In her most recent outing in Stuttgart, she held a match point in the quarterfinals against eventual champ Maria Sharapova before succumbing. Martic's year has been highlighted by her first career final in Kuala Lumpur and a semifinal showing at her most recent event in Copenhagen.
Mona Barthel (GER #31) vs. Julia Goerges (GER #20)
Head-to-head: Goerges leads 1-0
Julia Goerges may be the favorite on paper against her countrywoman, but Barthel has opened more eyes this year. By winning her first career title in Hobart and reaching quarterfinals in Paris, Copenhagen and Stuttgart, she has seen her ranking go from No.69 to start 2012 to a career-high No.31 this week. As for Goerges, her best result so far this year was a runner-up showing in Dubai. In her only previous appearance in Madrid, she beat then-World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki en route to the semifinals last year.