Here’s your dream championship final six weeks from now in Paris:
Defending French Open champion Iga Swiatek versus World No.1 Ashleigh Barty, who won nearly two years ago at Roland Garros but wasn’t on hand to defend her title.
“I probably watched all of a handful of points in the very first morning of the tournament there, nothing more than accident of flicking on the telly and realizing it,” Barty said of the 2020 French Open. “There was no frustration, absolutely not. I know I made the decision to not go and play for the right reasons. I have absolutely no regrets about that.”
Now, thanks to the good folks at the Mutua Madrid Open, we don’t have to wait for that must-see match. Barty and Swiatek meet Monday, 7 p.m. local (1 p.m., ET) in a Caja Magica confrontation that highlights a loaded round of 16.
There are four Grand Slam champions still in action –Barty, Swiatek, Petra Kvitova (who reached the quarterfinals Monday with a three-set win against Veronika Kudermetova) and Simona Halep. Sliced another way, two of the WTA’s top three-ranked players.
Meanwhile, rising star Veronika Kudermetova and two surprise 2021 Australian Open semifinalist combatants, Karolina Muchova and Jennifer Brady, are through, as is Spanish favorite Paula Badosa.
Feast your eyes on these terrific matches:
- No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty vs. No.14 Iga Swiatek
- No.8 Belinda Bencic vs. Ons Jabeur
- No.9 Petra Kvitova def. Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 4-6, 6-4
- WC Paula Badosa vs. Anastasija Sevastova
- No.3 Simona Halep vs. No.13 Elise Mertens
- No.5 Aryna Sabalenka vs. Jessica Pegula
- No.11 Jennifer Brady vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
- No.16 Maria Sakkari vs. Karolina Muchova
Barty has won 13 consecutive red clay matches going back to that 2019 French Open victory. Swiatek, still only 19, has won 18 consecutive sets on the same burnt sienna surface going back to Paris in the fall.
“Yeah, I’m just going to try to use every opportunity that I have, not really focusing that I should win, because I shouldn’t,” Swiatek said, laughing. “I think I’m going to consider myself as underdog. It’s always easier to go with that attitude on the match, hopefully.”
They have never played a match, but practiced once earlier this year at Melbourne.
“She’s got a seriously impressive game,” Barty said of Swiatek. “Moves very well on the clay court, can slide off both legs, controls her body really well on clay. Likes to use her hopper, gets around, controls the court with her forehand.
“It's a challenge that we go into with a really clean slate, a little bit of a period of trying to figure each other out and just how our games match up. Certainly one I look forward to.”
Said Swiatek: “I remember it was hard in Melbourne to keep your legs low, just playing back those slices. I think most of the girls have problem with that. I’m going to remember about that. I’m going to play without any expectations because she’s No. 1.”
Here comes Halep
The two-time Grand Slam champion has won each of her four sets – two of them at 6-0 – and dropped only nine games.
In her 10th main draw at Mutua Madrid Open, Halep is the top seed left in the bottom half and seeks her third Madrid title .She won the title here in 2016 and 2017.
Ranked at No.3, Halep has been inside the WTA top 10 for 359 consecutive weeks, the longest active streak. She reached the semifinals a weeks ago in Stuttgart, losing to Sabalenka, who she could face again in the Madrid quarterfinals.
Porsche Race to Shenzhen
Barty (2,471) has a slim lead over Naomi Osaka (2,400), but will add to it with Osaka going out in the second round. Barty is tied for most wins in 2021 (22) with Kudermetova. This week is her 73rd overall at the top of the rankings (ninth on the all-time list) and 65th consecutive week.
Muchova nails the 1-2 exacta
Karolina Muchova entered the event at a new career high, No.20, then played like it, stunning No. 2 Naomi Osaka 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 on Sunday.
The 24-year-old Czech Republic player broke through with a semifinal run at the Australian Open – beating World No.1 Barty in the quarterfinals – but an abdominal injury kept her out of action for two months. After losing her first match in Stuttgart, Muchova has looked sharp in Madrid.
She is a striking 3-2 against top five players and one of two Czech Players in the round of 16, along with Petra Kvitova. Russia also has two, with Pavlyuchenkova and Kudermetova, and the United States as well, with Brady and Pegula.
Patience, patience …
Swiatek needed an agonizing 11 match points to finally put away Laura Siegemund in the second round. “Well, I learned that you have to be patient,” Swiatek said. “Really it was pretty hard to close that match. Match balls are pretty stressful because you know you’re almost at the end. It was pretty annoying.”
There’s a first time for …
Half of the eight round-of-16 matchups are first-timers: Barty-Swiatek, Kvitova-Kudermetova, Bencic-Jabeur and Brady-Pavlyuchenkova.
The longest of shots
At No. 62, Paula Badosa is the lowest-ranked player left in the draw. The wildcard plays No. 54 Anastasija Sevastova and the winner will find herself in the quarterfinals of this prestigious WTA 1000. The head-to-head is 1-0, Badosa.
This is a homecoming of sorts for the 23-year-old Spaniard. Though she was born in New York City, she moved to Barcelona at the age of 7. She was the 2015 French Open junior champion and is a fan favorite in Madrid. After Garbine Muguruza withdrew with a thigh injury and Sara Sorribes Tormo lost to Halep in the first round, she’s their last hope in singles.
“I accept the challenge,” Badosa said. “I already have pressure for being here. Even if Garbine didn’t withdraw or Sara kept winning, I will feel the same pressure. When you’re in the court, on center court, with all the people that wants you to win, you feel the pressure a little bit there.
“It’s a little bit tough to control the emotions. But I’m doing it quite well.”
Bencic bounces back
It’s been a relatively slow start for No. 8 Belinda Bencic, who faces Ons Jabeur on Monday (3 p.m. local/9 a.m., ET). But for the first time since Adelaide (where she lost in the final to Swiatek back in February), she’s won back-to-back matches. Bencic is a win away from equaling her best clay effort ever, reaching the semifinals here in Madrid (2019) and Charleston (2014).
Ace is the place
There must be something to the success of the game's biggest servers. Three of the six 2021 ace leaders are still alive in Madrid.
Ashleigh Barty: 163
Veronika Kudermetova: 147
Karolina Pliskova: 130
Ekaterina Alexandrova, Ons Jabeur: 123
Aryna Sabalenka: 116