Madrid Open Daily Preview: Naomi Osaka Plays Her First Clay Event in Nearly Two Years - UBITENNIS
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Madrid Open Daily Preview: Naomi Osaka Plays Her First Clay Event in Nearly Two Years




Naomi Osaka is looking for her first winner’s trophy on clay (, Pete Staples)

Aside from a Billie Jean King Cup match last February, Naomi Osaka hasn’t competed on clay since the 2019 French Open, when she was ousted in the second round by Victoria Azarenka.  After winning last September’s US Open, she declined to play Roland Garros due to a hamstring injury.  All seven of her career titles have come on hard courts.  Can the four-time Major champion begin to transfer that success onto the red dirt?


The women continue to take center stage as they complete first round action on Friday, while the men’s main draw won’t begin until Sunday.  Two-time Madrid Open champion Simona Halep takes on Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, who is an impressive 15-5 in 2021.  Also, 2018 semifinalist Karolina Pliskova faces 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who is making her Madrid Open debut.  And Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady plays fellow American, and future Hall of Famer, Venus Williams.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Friday’s play will begin at 11:00am local time.

Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Misaki Doi (Q) – Second on Manolo Santana Stadium

This is a rematch from the first round of last year’s US Open, when Osaka required three sets to overcome her fellow countrywoman.  Naomi was able to prevail despite not being at her best, just a few days after withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open championship match due to her hamstring issue.  Her first serve was at only 51%, and she struck 25 winners compared to 38 unforced errors.  While Osaka hasn’t play an event on clay since May of 2019, she was an impressive 9-2 that season on this surface.  This should be a comfortable first opponent for Naomi, as she’s 2-0 against Doi.  And the 29-year-old Doi only has two tour-level wins on clay since May of 2017. 

Simona Halep (3) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo – Third on Manolo Santana Stadium

Their only previous meeting was last September at the French Open, with Halep easily winning 6-4, 6-0.  But since that time, Sorribes Tormo has played some great tennis, and is at a career-high ranking of 46th in the world.  In March alone, she won the title in Guadalajara, reached the semis in Monterrey, and pushed Bianca Andreescu to the limit in Miami.  Sara’s run in Miami may have been the most impressive of her career, with three top-30 victories (Jennifer Brady, Elena Rybakina, Ons Jabeur).  Her perseverance was on full display, winning four consecutive three-setters in the Florida heat.  After her loss to Andreescu, the Canadian described Sorribes Tormo as “an incredible fighter,” complimenting her endurance and explaining how difficult she is to play against due to the lack of pace her balls provide.

Halep often feeds off the pace of her opponent, so it will be interesting to observe how the world No.3 counteracts Sara’s improved game.  Since Darren Cahill rejoined her team full-time at the start of 2020, she’s gone 32-6, with three titles.  Simona has reached the final of this event in four of her last six appearances.  Sorribes Tormo may prove to be a stern test, but it would be understandable if the Spaniard is nervous at her country’s biggest event, especially with Garbine’s Muguruza’s withdrawal leaving Sara as Spain’s top-ranked player in the draw.  And with Halep coming off a walloping last week at the hands of Aryna Sabalenka, she will be eager to build some momentum heading into Roland Garros.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Karolina Pliskova (6) vs. Coco Gauff – Pliskova is just 8-6 lifetime in Madrid, while Gauff is only 5-3 on clay in her young career.

Jennifer Brady (11) vs. Venus Williams (WC) – Brady’s has excelled of late on hard courts, and has a losing record in her career on clay.  Venus is currently ranked 91st in the world, and is just 3-11 since the beginning of last year.

Aryna Sabalenka (5) vs. Vera Zvonareva (Q) – Since losing in the third round of the French Open last October, Sabalenka is 27-6, and reached the final of Stuttgart last week.  Zvonareva has only earned two tour-level wins on clay since returning in 2017.

Victoria Azarenka (12) vs. Ekaterina Alexandrova – Azarenka reached back-to-back finals of this event, but that was nearly a decade ago.  Alexandrova upset 12th-ranked Belinda Bencic last week in Stuttgart.

Maria Sakkari (16) vs. Amanda Anisimova – Sakkari is at a career-high ranking of No.19 in the world, and during the last full clay court season in 2019, she went 15-5.  That same year, Anisimova made her big breakthrough on this surface, reaching the French Open semifinals.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.


Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Another Stellar Order of Play on Thursday




Thankfully, these seats will not be so empty come Thursday (

All round of 16 matches will be played on Thursday, with 47 Major singles titles represented.  There is some rain forecast early in the day, but skies should clear by mid-afternoon, allowing all action to be completed.  And with fans on the grounds for the first time this week, there will be a whole different energy at Foro Italico.


Men’s round of 16 action features two matchups where top 10 seeds collide.  Overall, seven of the top 10 men in the world are still alive in this draw.  That includes Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who have combined to win this event 14 out of the last 16 years.

On the women’s side, four French Open champions remain.  One of them is Garbine Muguruza, who will take on two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina.  The other three (Ash Barty, Iga Swiatek, and Jelena Ostapenko) all face unseeded yet challenging competition on Thursday.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Thursday’s play begins at 10:00am local time.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) vs. Matteo Berrettini (9) – Not Before 12:00pm on Grand Stand Arena

This matchup was scheduled to take place in February at the Australian Open, but Berrettini was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to an abdominal injury.  The 25-year-old Italian would miss nearly two months of action, though he’s now 10-2 since returning.  Matteo was the champion in Belgrade and the runner-up in Madrid, so he’s played a lot of tennis over the last few weeks.

Tsitsipas has been busy as well, with an 11-2 record during the European clay swing.  Like Matteo, he earned one title and reached the final of another event (Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, respectively).  They did play at the Australian Open two years ago, when Stefanos claimed a tight four-setter.  They also met in qualifying for the 2017 US Open, with Tsitsipas winning in a third-set tiebreak.  Stefanos’ form this past month on clay has been stellar.  And between this week and the last, he’s played significantly less tennis than Matteo.  Despite Berrettini’s hometown crowd rooting him on, Tsitsipas should advance.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Garbine Mugruza (12) – Not Before 6:00pm on Center Court

Svitolina won back-to-back titles here in 2017 and 2018.  Yet outside of those runs, she’s just 4-5 lifetime in Rome.  On Wednesday, Elina recovered from a tough opening set to defeat Amanda Anisimova in three.  Muguruza has reached three semifinals in Rome, though is yet to advance farther.  She too was forced to come from behind on Wednesday.  Garbine was down two breaks in the third set, when American Bernarda Pera tightened up, allowing Muguruza to take that set 7-5.

This will be the tenth meeting in their rivalry, which Svitolina leads 6-3 at tour level.  However, they’ve split their two clay court matches.  In 2021, Muguruza has been the better player.  She has accumulated a 23-6 record, with one title and two runner-up trophies.  Svitolina is 18-8 on the season, though she’s yet to reach a final.  And against the top 20, she’s just 2-4, with her only two wins coming against Petra Kvitova.  Muguruza did have to withdraw from Madrid last week due to a thigh injury.  But if she’s feeling close to 100%, Garbine is the favorite based on her recent form.

Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (Q) – Djokovic has never lost before the quarterfinals in Rome, but could be challenged by the 21-year-old Spaniard, who is 10-5 on clay this season.  This is their first career meeting.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Veronika Kudermetova – Barty advanced comfortably on Wednesday despite some strapping on her leg.  24-year-old Kudermetova is an impressive 24-10 in 2021, and was a champion last month on the green clay of Charleston.  This is also their first meeting.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Denis Shapovalov (13) – Denis’ exciting win over Rafa at 2017’s Rogers Cup was his breakout moment, but he’s 0-2 against Nadal since that time.  Shapovalov was a semifinalist in Rome last September, while Nadal has failed to reach the quarterfinals here only once in 16 appearances.

Angelique Kerber vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Their only head-to-head matchup was a significant one.  In the 2018 Wimbledon semifinals, Kerber prevailed 6-3, 6-3 on her way to the title.  Neither player has won three consecutive matches this year, a feat one of them will achieve on Thursday.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (10) – They have split six previous encounters, though Rublev has claimed both their matches on clay, including last month in Monte-Carlo.

Aryna Sabalenka (7) vs. Coco Gauff – Sabalena is on a seven-match win streak, and is 11-1 on clay this season.  Gauff has already survived two three-setters this week.  They met twice last year, with each claiming one victory, and each match going the distance. 

Sascha Zverev (6) vs. Kei Nishikori – Sascha and Kei just played last week in Madrid, with Zverev winning 6-3, 6-2.  That victory started Zverev’s current six-match win streak.  Like fellow Madrid champion Sabalenka, he’s only dropped one set during that time.

Iga Swiatek (15) vs. Barbora Krejcikova – The reigning French Open champ has won 11 of her last 12 matches on clay.  Swiatek defeated Krejickova in straight sets earlier this year in Miami.

Dominic Thiem (4) vs. Lorenzo Sonego – Thiem came back from a set down on Wednesday against Marton Fucsovics, while Sonego took out Gael Monfils in the last round.  When they met on clay in 2019, Thiem prevailed in straights.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Vera Zvonareva (Q) – On Wednesday, Zvonareva upset another big-hitting Czech, Petra Kvitova.  Pliskova was the champion here two years ago, and the runner-up last season.  Three years ago in Moscow, Zvonareva dominated Pliskova, allowing her only three games.

Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Watchdog Files Complaint To Government Over Prize Money Discrepancies At Italian Open

The tournament has been accused of ‘an unacceptable pay gap’ by one of the countries leading independent agencies.




A leading consumer watchdog in Italy has hit out at their biggest tennis tournament over what they say is unfair differences in pay between male and female players.


Codacons has issued a press release confirming they have filed an official complaint to the Department for Equal Opportunities (Presidency of the Council of Ministers). The political Authority directly in charge of gender equality and equal opportunities policies in Italy which are made up by a series of politicians from various parties. The move has been triggered by a report in national newspaper La Repubblica which notes that the prize money pool in the men’s draw is significantly more than the women’s.

The Internazionali d’Italia would be the only tennis tournament among the Masters 1000 of 2021 with an inequality in pay based exclusively on the sex of the players,’ Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, said in a statement.
“Based on what La Repubblica reported today to the winner of the prestigious event would be entitled to a higher remuneration of 37% compared to the winner of the women’s draw.’
“Analyzing the prizes up for grabs for the other rounds (eighths, quarters, semifinals and final) it turns out that the remuneration reserved for the players is significantly lower than those paid to male athletes.”

This year’s Italian Open is categorised as a Masters 1000 for the men and as a WTA 1000 for the women. In each round play the prize money available is significantly higher for male than female players. For example the differences in the first round are €12,000 against €8670. This year’s men’s champion will take home more than €65,000 more than their female counterpart.

“An unacceptable gender pay gap in 2021, which causes blatant discrimination to the detriment of women, and which today leads Codacons to denounce the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to the Equal Opportunities Commission for discrimination gender,” Rienzi concluded.

Whilst the Italian Open is a mixed tournament, both of the Tour’s have their own governing body with their own guidelines regarding prize money. Explaining why this difference has occurred. It is for this reason why there is also a difference in points on offer to players.

There has been no comment from the Italian Open, WTA or the ATP in regard to Codacons’ complaint.

2021 Italian Open: Men Vs Women

Prize Money




Note: info via and

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Serena Williams’ 1000th Match Ends In Defeat To Podoroska

Serena Williams was defeated in Rome as she reaches a landmark milestone of 1000 WTA matches.




Serena Williams (@WeAreTennis - Twitter)

Serena Williams’ 1000th WTA tour match has ended in a 7-6(6) 7-5 defeat to Nadia Podoroska in Rome.


The American made her return to tour for the first time in 84 days as she looked to build momentum heading into Roland Garros.

If the first few games were to set the tempo of the match then it would prove to be a long contest with Serena struggling to get any free points on her serve.

It was the Argentinian who got the first break of the match in the third game as she tested Serena’s stamina early on in the contest.

In typical Serena fashion, the 23-time grand slam champion produced some stunning ground-strokes especially from central positions to break to love straight away.

On serve, Serena looked fairly comfortable as she ended the match with eight aces although she only made a first serve percentage of 48%.

That was her key downfall as it was Podoroska who looked the more comfortable on return as she used some devastating angles to force unforced errors from the Serena racket.

A break for a 5-4 lead ensured that the last year’s Roland Garros semi-finalist would serve for the opening set.

However Serena used her power and good point construction to once again break back which was met with a roar from the world number eight.

Eventually the first set would head towards a tiebreaker with Podoroska dominating the majority of it.

She had three set points which came and went as Serena used her fighting qualities to roar back into the match.

But once again some unforced errors would cost the four-time champion as Podoroska took the next two point to claim the opening set in 66 minutes.

In the second set, Serena was the early aggressor as she dictated points better setting the pace of the match.

Again though Podoroska extended the rallies and made the American move all round the court exposing as much space as possible.

The Argentinian was rewarded for her court coverage when she broke in the sixth game as Serena began to tire.

As in the first set, Podoroska couldn’t serve out the second set as her cautious play lead to Serena levelling it up at 5-5.

However Serena’s serve was just not working when she needed it too and Podoroska secured the final blow to seal a fantastic victory for her.

For Serena its onto Roland Garros as she will look to improve her fitness in the next couple of weeks.

As for Podoroska she will play Petra Martic after the Croatian beat Kristina Mladenovic today 7-5 6-3.

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