MADRID, Spain - Reaffirming that there are precious few easy matches on the WTA Tour these days, the 2019 Mutua Madrid Open draw is packed full of intriguing matchups from the very first round - not least World No.1 Naomi Osaka opening against 2016 runner-up Dominika Cibulkova off the bat and defending champion Petra Kvitova clashing with rising 20-year-old Sofia Kenin.
No.1 seed Osaka is projected to face Stuttgart finalist and No.14 seed Anett Kontaveit in the third round and No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals. Pliskova, though, has a section full of minefields: the power and drive of 18-year-old two-time titlist Dayana Yastremska in the first round, and then either No.10 seed Aryna Sabalenka or a resurgent Belinda Bencic in the third round. Indeed, a second-round between Sabalenka and Bencic would be a must-watch, given their dramatic match in Dubai in February in which the Swiss player saved six match points - a 2019 Tour record - en route to her first title in three years.
Two-time champion and No.3 seed Simona Halep heads the second quarter, with WTA Finals champion and No.6 seed Elina Svitolina her projected opponent in the last eight. To get there, though, the Romanian has to navigate past either No.16 seed Julia Goerges or home favorite Carla Suárez Navarro, while Svitolina could have to tackle in supremely in-form No.9 seed Ashleigh Barty, fresh off the Miami title and Fed Cup semifinal glory, in the third round.
One of the biggest draw bombshells comes in the form of a projected second-round clash between No.4 seed Angelique Kerber and Garbiñe Muguruza - an astonishingly early meeting for two World No.1s owing to the fact that, as World No.20, the Spaniard is three spots outside the seedings. The pair have not played a WTA match since Muguruza defeated Kerber en route to the 2017 Wimbledon title - her fifth win in a row after losing her first three encounters with the German.
Whoever survives that blockbuster faces a projected third round against No.15 seed Wang Qiang and a possible quarterfinal against No.8 seed Sloane Stephens, though the American faces an arduous path herself. Her second-round opponent will be the victor of another popcorn first-round pairing: former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka against former World No.10 Daria Kasatkina, two players still seeking to return to their peak form. Azarenka, a two-time runner-up in Madrid in 2011 and 2012, impressed in Stuttgart by making the quarterfinals before succumbing to a shoulder injury; Kasatkina has been hoping that her favored clay surface will rejuvenate her "disaster" start to 2019.
There could also be a reprise of last year's thrilling final as early as the quarterfinals this year as defending champion and No.2 seed Petra Kvitova, who lifted a record third trophy here last year, is slated to face No.7 seed Kiki Bertens in the last eight. The Czech's road gets no easier after her Kenin opener: No.13 seed Madison Keys, fresh off the Charleston title, is projected to be her third-round opponent, but the trickery of Hsieh Su-Wei and a resurgent Barbora Strycova also lurk in this section.
Bertens, meanwhile, has stumbled upon something of a Latvian minefield: former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko has been out of form in 2019, but always represents potential danger - while No.12 seed Anastasija Sevastova's wiles could await in the third round.
MUTUA MADRID OPEN 2019 DRAW
 Naomi Osaka (JPN) vs. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)
[WC] Lara Arruabarrena (ESP) vs. [WC] Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP)
Elise Mertens (BEL) vs. Qualifier
Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) vs.  Anett Kontaveit (EST)
 Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) vs. [WC] Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)
Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL) vs. Belinda Bencic (SUI)
Qualifier vs. Zhang Shuai (CHN)
Dayana Yastremska (UKR) vs.  Karolina Pliskova (CZE)
 Simona Halep (ROU) vs. Qualifier
Alison Riske (USA) vs. Johanna Konta (GBR)
Maria Sakkari (GRE) vs. Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP)
Viktoria Kuzmova (SVK) vs.  Julia Goerges (GER)
 Ashleigh Barty (AUS) vs. Daria Gavrilova (AUS)
Qualifier vs. Danielle Collins (USA)
[WC] Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) vs. Yulia Putintseva (KAZ)
Pauline Parmentier (FRA) vs.  Elina Svitolina (UKR)
 Sloane Stephens (USA) vs. Qualifier
Daria Kasatkina (RUS) vs. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
Wang Yafan (CHN) vs. Zheng Saisai (CHN)
Alizé Cornet (FRA) vs.  Caroline Wozniacki (DEN)
 Wang Qiang (CHN) vs. Donna Vekic (CRO)
Qualifier vs. Qualifier
Petra Martic (CRO) vs. Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP)
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) vs.  Angelique Kerber (GER)
 Kiki Bertens (NED) vs. Katerina Siniakova (CZE)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) vs. Jelena Ostapenko (LAT)
Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU) vs. Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)
Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) vs.  Anastasija Sevastova (LAT)
 Madison Keys (USA) vs. [WC] Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
Hsieh Su-Wei (TPE) vs. Caroline Garcia (FRA)
Barbora Strycova (CZE) vs. Qualifier
Sofia Kenin (USA) vs.  Petra Kvitova (CZE)