WTA Insider | Ahead of the Mutua Madrid Open, Courtney Nguyen is joined by René Denfeld to preview the draw and who has the edge in Spain.
WTA Staff

On this Dropshot Edition of the podcast, WTA Insider Senior Writer Courtney Nguyen previews the Mutua Madrid Open draw. Will Victoria Azarenka pick up where she left off and assert her dominance on clay? Or will it be the tour's Road to Singapore leader Angelique Kerber build on her title at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix to breakthrough in Madrid's altitude? If the two most dominant players on tour this season don't end up with the final, who is poised to play the spoiler?

Joining the podcast to help preview the action is René Denfeld, contributing writer for The Tennis Island, who is also in Madrid for the week.

Nguyen on Azarenka's clay court preparation: All eyes are on Victoria Azarenka, 24-1 on the season. I was encouraged by what she said today during All-Access Hour, how this was her first clay court preparation with her new team, and hearing some new advice from her team - new voices. I think the numbers through the season on the hardcourts have shown that she is playing some of her best tennis. She's serving better than she ever has in her career, and on return she's right up there alongside the numbers she was posting in her peak years of 2012 and 2013. In all ways, you think this is Azarenka's season, which is a weird thing today when Angelique Kerber has won Stuttgart and the Australian Open.

Denfeld on comparing Azarenka's season to Kerber's: Kerber put in a tremendous run at the Aussie Open, taking out the two biggest favorites along the way, and backing up a title for the first time in her career. What Kerber's done really well over the last six months is learn from experiences in terms of dealing with pressure. But in terms of consistent performance over the last four months, I put Victoria Azarenka ahead of her, and everyone in Germany is going to throw rocks at me when I come back!

Nguyen on Agnieszka Radwanska's confidence on clay: It's interesting because when I've talked to Aga about her clay issues, it's always a curious thing because she says, 'I grew up on clay; this was the surface I played on.' But then once she started to play on tour, 90% of the tournaments were on hardcourts. She made those adjustments and faster courts became her strength. When I ask her to drill down on the adjustments she made or what makes clay a challenge for here, she never points to the power deficiency issue, or the technical issue, that the ball sits up. She always points to movement; she's said, 'I like sliding on hardcourts, but for some reason, I don't like sliding on a clay court. I need to be able to run to win matches, and if you take the ability to run away from me, it exposes my game.'

Denfeld on Simona Halep: Of all the seeds, I think this might be the most key tournament for Halep, because I'm a little confused as to the state of Simona at the moment. She said she felt fine and that her ankle felt good; I'm just curious what this tournament holds for Halep. She says she has no expectations, and for me that's tough to judge, because with no expectations, what does a first round loss mean? She had some good results in the US, and then that curious end against Laura Siegemund, having breathing problems. It created more questions than answers, but it would be good to see some results to resolve them.

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