Two Top 10 mainstays experienced different fates in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open on Sunday, as Aryna Sabalenka triumphed, while Karolina Pliskova was defeated.
No.5 seed Sabalenka eased past Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 6-3, continuing her patch of solid form which saw her reach the final last week in Stuttgart.
But No.6 seed Pliskova fell to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-0, 7-5. After losing her first six meetings with Pliskova, Pavlyuchenkova has now won her last two matches against the former World No.1.
Sabalenka notched her 20th match-win of the season with her 79-minute victory over World No.37 Kasatkina, improving to 6-1 on the dirt thus far this year as she extends a career-best showing at Madrid.
Former Top 10 player Kasatkina, a Madrid quarterfinalist 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 Kasatkina on Sunday, as the Belarusian slammed 40 winners to Kasatkina's nine en route to victory. Sabalenka converted four of her ten 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."
Outstanding returns by Sabalenka helped propel her to an early 5-1 lead in the clash. Kasatkina, though, chipped away at that advantage, slicing one break back for 5-2 and holding at love for 5-3. Sabalenka had to face another break point in the following game, but she served her way out of danger and fired a fierce forehand to close out the set.
More fabulous forehands and rocketing returns helped Sabalenka attain another early break in the second set, to lead 2-1. Kasatkina did well to fend off break points in her two subsequent service games, but the Russian was unable to get a real look in on the Sabalenka serve from there as the No.5 seed continued to blast winners.
Serving to stay in the match at 5-3, Kasatkina saw three game points slip away, and Sabalenka found a backhand winner down the line to set up her first match point. Another winning backhand finished up the match as Sabalenka clinched a round-of-16 slot in Madrid for the first time in her career.
Pavlyuchenkova, meanwhile, claimed another Top 10 win in a career chock full of them, but her first since she defeated Belinda Bencic in Dubai over a year ago.
"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."
41st-ranked Pavlyuchenkova knocked out Pliskova with 20 winners to just 14 unforced errors, breaking the Czech's vaunted serve five times in the match.
By contrast, Pliskova's 13 winners were undone by a whopping 28 errors, as she fell in the Madrid second round for her second successive showing. The 2018 Madrid semifinalist had seven double faults and could only break the Russian once all day.
The bagel first set was over in a blink, with 10 of Pavlyuchenkova's winners and only two of her unforced errors coming in that frame. But Pliskova made a charge in the second set, ending the seven-game run by Pavlyuchenkova with her first break of the day for 1-1, helped by a double fault from the Russian on break point.
At last, the power game of Pliskova rose to the level that the equally hard-hitting Pavlyuchenkova had demonstrated during the tilt, and the pair blasted their way to 5-5. In that game, though, Pliskova fired two wide miscues to drop serve again, and Pavlyuchenkova took her chance, serving out the match with ease.
Pavlyuchenkova will face No.11 seed Jennifer Brady in the round of 16, after Brady dispatched former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, 6-2, 6-1.
Brady, this year's Australian Open runner-up, needed just 66 minutes to defeat Ostapenko and move into the Madrid third 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 victory over Venus Williams with her second consecutive straight-set win.
More to follow....