Ashleigh Barty and Paola Badosa already advanced to the Mutua Madrid semifinals.
Barty, the World No.1, needed three sets Wednesday to take out three-time Madrid champion Petra Kvitova, while Badosa continued to thrill her hometown fans with with a straight-sets win against No.8 seed Belinda Bencic.
Who will join them in the final four? Here's a breakdown:
No.5 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No.13 Elise Mertens
Don’t look now, but Mertens is at it again.
After she defeated No.3 Simona Halep 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, she’s a superb 20-5 for the season, only three match-wins behind leader Ashleigh Barty. It’s not a widely known fact, but in a difficult 2020, Mertens – without winning a tournament – cobbled together 30 wins to lead all players.
Her quarterfinal opponent, Sabalenka, is a good friend and doubles partner; they won their second Grand Slam title back in February at the Australian Open. Sabalenka has gone one better this year, producing a 21-6 mark. The 22-year-old from Belarus battered Jessica Pegula 6-1, 6-2 in less than an hour and is the youngest of the quarterfinalists.
Sabalenka leads the head-to-head 4-2 and has won the past three, most recently in last November’s Linz final in straight sets.
Karolina Muchova vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
Pavlyuchenkova arrived in Madrid ranked World No.41 and had a losing record. Now the 27-year-old Russian has put together an improbable run, beating, in order, No.23-ranked Madison Keys, No.9 Karolina Pliskova and No.14 Jennifer Brady.
Tuesday’s 7-5, 6-7(8), 6-3 win over Brady was particularly impressive, requiring 2 hours, 47 minutes. It’s the first time she’s strung together three consecutive wins in 15 months, and those are her three best wins-by-ranking of the season.
Where did that come from?
“I think it’s a hell of a draw since the first round,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “Any tournament when you beat a Top 10, or I beat Karolina, she was No.6 seeded here, you think, like, ‘Okay, it’s sort of either might be a little easier or open draw, but it got even tougher.’ It gets tougher and tougher and tougher.”
To that point, Pavlyuchenkova’s reward is a chance for a fourth straight Top 25 win in a span of six days when she faces Muchova, a 6-0, 6-7(9), 7-5 winner over No.16 seed Maria Sakkari.
It ended when Muchova converted her fourth match point with the clock approaching midnight and, because of the 11 p.m. curfew, much of the last set was played without fans present.
Muchova – ranked World No.20 and rising – is now a pristine 6-0 against top 20 players this season. She stunned No. 2 Naomi Osaka in the second round and, back in February, beat World No.1 Ashleigh Barty in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Pavlyuchenkova beat Muchova in their only meeting two years ago in Moscow.
This is Pavlyuchenkova’s 12th appearance in Madrid and she’s hoping to improve on her previous best, a quarterfinal appearance in 2011.
“I haven’t been in quarterfinal for a while, so I’m actually excited to get another chance, another challenge to play,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “Muchova, amazing hands. She has this guy tennis, I would say, which is very nice tennis. It’s just a good, solid, nice tournament. Good challenges.”
A long road
Pavlyuchenkova acknowledged that she’s struggled for the past year.
“First of all, the COVID time was definitely didn’t play in my favor,” she said. “For some reason, I had a great start to the year last year, and it put me off completely. Like I have lost my rhythm. I couldn’t get back on track after, because I was in lockdown and I was still working out.
“I got problems with my knees for the first time and I was off. Like the whole year I had knee problem. So that’s also another thing. And then, you know, changes with coaches [In: brother Aleksandr Pavlyuchenkov, Out: Sam Sumyk], I just couldn’t build my team around me like the one solid good team.
“Then confidence went obviously down because of all of that. Now, yeah, I had also some tough times, tough draws, and that's it. Now I’m building up, building back on that, building back on my confidence, trying to work hard and be positive.”
For Muchova, it's a first quarterfinal showing since her recovery from a left abdominal injury she suffered after her run to a maiden Grand Slam semifinal at the 2021 Australian Open.
“I really, really appreciate to get into quarterfinals,” Muchova said afterward. “Even after the break I had after the Australian Open, I have to say my expectations was pretty low.
“I’m really, really glad and really happy and as well for my team. We did some job, and they are helping me a lot, so it shows me that we are doing right way. Yeah, just I’m trying to enjoy it.”