Two French Open champions, one winner: world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty got the better of Iga Swiatek at the Mutua Madrid Open on Monday to reach the quarterfinals of the WTA 1000 event, 7-5, 6-4.
Both players came into the match with streaks at stake: Barty boasted 13 consecutive wins on red clay going back to her maiden Grand Slam victory in Paris in 2019, while Swiatek had won 18 consecutive sets on the surface dating back to her own triumph last fall.
"I really enjoyed myself out there tonight. I enjoyed the challenge. Iga's game is exceptional. It's really, really impressive. I love testing myself and trying to figure out the puzzle tonight and the challenges that she created for me," Barty said after the match.
"I love the way that she plays. I love the way she takes the game on. She plays without fear. I think the way she controls the court, has the ability to move and neutralize from defensive position is very, very impressive."
To extend her own streak to 14 straight and snap Swiatek's, Barty rallied from a slow start and relied heavily on her serve to secure victory: the Aussie rallied from a 3-0 down in the opening set, and was never again broken after that.
"I think probably the first half an hour was a bit of an adjustment period for both of us. I think it took me some time to get used to Iga's weight of shot. Obviously, we had a game plan going into it, but I had to adjust that and had to kind of learn on the fly a little bit," Barty said.
"It took me some time to get used to that and kind of nut down what I really wanted to do out there. Once I was able to do that, I became a lot more clear and was able to control the match a little bit more the way that I wanted to.
"There was certainly an adjustment period. Playing to conditions was different. It's the first time I played with an open roof for a couple weeks now. There was quite a bit of a wind coming from one direction. That was an adjustment period more so for me to try and find my range. I was dropping the ball short. She was inside the court, being able to control off both her forehand and backhand.
"That was an important switch for me to try to get depth to neutralize a little bit more, to then try to figure my way around the match, how I wanted to play."
The top seed did not even face a break point for the duration of the opener after she pulled level, and crucially, later rallied from a 0-40 deficit to hold for 4-2 in the second set after having broken Swiatek in the third game.
"[That was] a massive game in a sense of continuing to build pressure on Iga. I think that was a big part of it. A lot of my service games I felt like I was building pressure on her service games by being able to get out of some tight ones. I think that was a massive game to continue the momentum," Barty said.
"If I'd have lost that game, it's certainly no panic stations. It still would have been 2-All, 3-All, whatever the score would have been. I think it was a really important game just to be able to go back to what was working for me."
Though she landed just 56 percent of her first serves in the match, Barty won nearly 80 percent of the points played behind it. She cleaned up her serve in the second set, too, by raising her first-serve percentage from 46 to 65 percent.
With the win, Barty also improved her 2021 record against Top 20 players to 9-0, and advances to a quarterfinal meeting with No.9 seed Petra Kvitova.
Barty and Kvitova have played nine times, with the Czech holding a slim 5-4 edge all-time. Their lone meeting on clay came a staggering nine years ago at the French Open and was won by Kvitova, 6-1, 6-2—but that's a match that neither player will put much stock in.
"We played on clay, but it was many, many years ago so I'm not counting then," Kvitova said. "She has a game for clay. She's sliding. She's playing lots of slice and everything... She likes clay a little bit more than me probably. I like Madrid. So who knows, right?
"Always playing Ash, it's great challenge. It will be great matchup. I really will enjoy it. I'm really looking forward for it."
Also in the night session, home favorite Paula Badosa kept her best-ever run in Madrid going with a 6-7(0), 7-6(3), 6-0 win over Anastasija Sevastova. The clash between the wildcard and the qualifier lasted over two-and-a-half hours, but after saving two break points in the first game of the decider, the 23-year-old Spaniard cruised through to the finish in emotional scenes.
"I got so emotional after the match because of that, of playing home and showing the people the level and that I can win matches. I'm the last Spanish [player here, so it makes me a little bit more proud. I know the crowd are pushing me a lot," Badosa said.
"The first two sets were very close. It could go through one side or another one. But then the third set I knew I had to play very aggressive because I was quite tired... I started to be very, very aggressive, concentrated on the first two, three shots. I think that was a little bit the key of the third set.
"It's an emotional week. I was very nervous when I started the week because I wanted to do very well here. I'm quite happy that it's coming true. It's really special... I like to play on clay, as I say always. To reach here the quarterfinals at home, it's very special, in front of my family, my friends, my people. It's an amazing feeling."