WTA Insider breaks down the tough draw at the Mutua Madrid Open, where the top seeds will be put to the fire early.
WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen
May 4, 2018

MADRID, Spain - The draw for the Mutua Madrid Open is out and the third Premier Mandatory event of the season is set for some early-round fireworks. With the No.1 ranking back in play between World No.1 Simona Halep and Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, the top two seeds have tough early draws that will require them to hit the ground round. 

SImona Halep and Kristina Mladenovic admire their hardware after a tough 2017 Madrid final. (Getty Images)

Tournament snapshot:

Top eight seeds: No.1 Simona Halep, No.2 Caroline Wozniacki, No.3 Garbiñe Muguruza, No.4 Elina Svitolina, No.5 Karolina Pliskova, No.6 Jelena Ostapenko, No.7 Caroline Garcia, No.8 Venus Williams

Top half: Halep, Muguruza, Pliskova, Venus
Bottom half: Wozniacki, Svitolina, Ostapenko, Garcia

Potential quarterfinals: Halep-Pliskova, Muguruza-Venus, Garcia-Svitolina, Wozniacki-Ostapenko.

Last year's final: Simona Halep d. Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-7, 6-2.

Click here to see the full draw. Main draw play begins on Saturday.

Caroline Wozniacki taps clay from her shoes at the 2017 Madrid Open (Getty Images)

With No.1 in play, Caroline Wozniacki has some hard work to do.

With no opening round byes and a full and deep field, the top two seeds will have to play some of their best tennis from the first round in Madrid. The No.1 ranking is back in play this week, with No.1 Halep defending her title points from last season, while Wozniacki lost in the second round last year. 

Halep will push her total weeks at No.1 to 27 during Madrid, the 13th most weeks at No.1 since the introduction of the WTA Rankings in November 1975. To overtake Halep, Wozniacki needs to reach the semifinals in order to have a chance of returning to No.1. However, if Halep wins a match in Madrid, Wozniacki would need to reach the final to have a chance. A title for Wozniacki would secure the WTA World No.1 Ranking regardless of Halep's results.

READ: WTA Insider Clay Court Power Rankings

A deep run for Wozniacki will not be an easy task. A 2009 finalist in Madrid, the Dane has posted a 10-7 record in Madrid in her last 7 appearances and has not progressed past the quarterfinals since that run to the finals nearly a decade ago. Wozniacki also comes into Madrid with some injury concerns, having had to retire to Pauline Parmentier a week ago at the Istanbul Cup due to an abdominal injury. 

Wozniacki will open her tournament against Australia's Daria Gavrilova, with the winner to play either Ashleigh Barty or a qualifier in the second. The first seed Wozniacki could face is the slicing and dicing Anastasia Sevastova, with Charleston champion Kiki Bertens and Maria Sakkari floating in her section as well. Manage the early rounds and she could face Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, who she has never beaten (0-4). 

Simona Halep bids for an historic three-peat in Madrid.

The two-time defending champion is bidding to become the first woman to win back-to-back-to-back titles in Madrid, after joining Serena Williams as the only two women to ever successfully defend a title in Madrid last year. But this year is shaping up to be Halep's toughest road to the Madrid title. 

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Halep's opening two rounds could be the most difficult of any of the top seeds. She faces Ekaterina Makarova in the first round and then could face Australian Open semifinalist and recent Lugano champion Elise Mertens. From there she could face Madison Keys in the third round, with a host of dangerous opposition looming, including Victoria Azarenka, Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova, Garbiñe Muguruza, and Venus Williams. 

Garbiñe Muguruza aims to end her Madrid block.

The Spanish No.1 has yet to progress past the third round in her home tournament, a streak she'd be more than happy to finally end this year. Assuming she has recovered from the back injury that forced her to retire in Stuttgart, the 2016 Roland Garros champion has a draw that should allow herself to find her feet in th early rounds. She opens against Peng Shuai and then plays either Donna Vekic or Spanish wildcard Georgina Garcia Perez.  

Azarenka had an extended break for personal reasons before beating Watson again at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells (Getty)
Madrid will be Victoria Azarenka's third tournament of 2018.

Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams return to action.

The last time we saw either woman was the Miami Open. Azarenka broke through a draw that included wins over CiCi Bellis, Madison Keys, Anastasia Sevastova, Karolina Pliskova, and Agnieszka Radwanska, before falling to eventual champion Sloane Stephens in the semifinals. Venus scored two good wins over Kiki Bertens and Johanna Konta before losing in the quarterfinals to Danielle Collins.

PODCAST: Recapping the hard court season and looking ahead to clay.

Venus opens her tournament with a tough draw against Anett Kontaveit, who is coming off a fantastic week in Stuttgart which saw her make the semifinals. Azarenka faces the crafty Aleksandra Krunic, and a win could set up a big second round showdown against Karolina Pliskova. 

Maria Sharapova looks to build, could face Jelena Ostapenko early.

A champion here in 2014, Sharapova comes into Madrid riding a four-match losing streak for the first time since 2003. But there were positives to take away from her tough three-set loss to Caroline Garcia in Stuttgart and Madrid will be a big opportunity for her to prove that she's come out of her slide. Sharapova plays her first match against Mihaela Buzarnescu (who is in the semifinals of Prague) and could face Jelena Ostapenko in the second round. 

After making her first clay final in Stuttgart, CoCo Vandweghe plays 2017 finalist Kristina Mladenovic in the first round of Madrid.

Notable first-round matches: Simona Halep vs. Ekaterina Makarova, Samantha Stosur vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Victoria Azarenka vs. Aleksandra Krunic, Petra Kvitova vs. Lesia Tsurenko, Venus Williams vs. Anett Kontaveit, Caroline Garcia vs. Dominika Cibulkova, Marta Kostyuk vs. Lara Arruabarrena, Julia Goerges vs. Timea Babos, Johanna Konta vs. Magdalena Rybarikova, Jelena Ostapenko vs. Irina Camelia-Begu, Maria Sharapova vs. Mihaela Buzarnescu, Naomi Osaka vs. Zhang Shuai, CoCo Vandeweghe vs. Kristina Mladenovic, Kiki Bertens vs. Maria Sakkari, Caroline Wozniacki vs. Daria Gavrilova.