Madrid Open Daily Preview: Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka Meet in a Second Consecutive Final - UBITENNIS
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Madrid Open Daily Preview: Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka Meet in a Second Consecutive Final

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Aryna Sabalenka has steamrolled her way to Saturday’s final (twitter.com/MutuaMadridOpen)

Just 13 days ago in Stuttgart, Barty and Sabalenka competed in the championship match, with Barty coming back from a set down to win the title, claiming 12 of the last 15 games.  On Saturday, Sabalenka looks to avenge that loss, and even their head-to-head at 4-4.  The women’s doubles championship will also be decided, between two of the top three seeds.

On the men’s side, the singles and doubles semifinals will be played.  Sascha Zverev hit a subpar Rafael Nadal right off the court on Friday, and just 24 hours later will try to take out the next-best clay courter of the last few years, Dominic Thiem.  Saturday will be a busy day for Zverev, as he’s also a semifinalist in doubles.  In the other singles semifinal, Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud will do battle, with the winner achieving their first Masters 1000 final. 

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Saturday’s play will begin at 1:30pm local time.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Sascha Zverev (5) – Not Before 4:00pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

This will be their first encounter since their dramatic, yet rather ugly US Open final, where Thiem came back from two sets down to eventually prevail in a fifth set tiebreak.  Overall Dominic leads their head-to-head 8-2, and 4-1 on clay.  The Austrian has claimed their last four meetings, with Zverev’s last victory coming in the final of this event three years ago.  

Both men struggled with some nagging injuries prior to this event, but both have looked sharp to this stage.  Thiem overcame a one-set deficit on Friday against John Isner, while Zverev is yet to drop a set.  Defeating Nadal on clay is always a big achievement, especially when it’s your first time doing so.  It will be interesting to see if Sascha can maintain his high level from a day prior.  Zverev struck 28 winners on Friday, compared to only six by Nadal.

In last year’s US Open final, the winner of each set was the player who won a higher percentage of first serve points.  If you’re Sascha Zverev, there has to be some baggage from blowing a two-set lead in his first career Major final.  In a rivalry that has strongly favored Thiem, I like the reigning US Open champion to reach his third final in Madrid.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Aryna Sabalenka (5) – Not Before 6:30pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

They’ve already met twice this year, in Miami and Stuttgart, with Barty taking both matches in a third set by a score of 6-3.  In their Stuttgart final, converting break points was a key difference.  Barty broke five times, while Sabalenka only claimed two out of 10 break points.  That exemplifies the composure of the world No.1, who has won 16 out of her last 18 deciding sets. 

Sabalenka hasn’t faced a deciding set this fortnight, as she’s been dominating all competition.  No opponent has claimed more than three games in a set.  Aryna has spent about three less hours on court than Barty, though that shouldn’t be a significant factor on Saturday.  Both players had a day of rest on Friday, and comfortably won their Thursday semifinals in straight sets.

Barty has amassed several impressive streaks: 9 straight match wins, 16 straight on red clay, and 10 straight victories over top 10 opposition.  She’s also prevailed in 10 of her last 12 finals.  Similarly, Sabalenka has won seven of her last nine finals.  Yet as impressive as the Belarusian has been, winning 32 of her last 38 matches, she’s only 1-3 during that span against the top 10.  If these two go the distance again, it’s harder for Sabalenka to maintain her level than Barty.  And Ash possesses many more backup plans in her arsenal.  In what should be another tight contest, I give the slight edge to Barty to earn her fourth title of the year.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Matteo Berrettini (8) vs. Casper Ruud – Berrettini is on a seven-match win streak, dating back to his title run two weeks ago in Belgrade.  Ruud is into his third consecutive Masters 1000 semifinal on clay, and all 14 of his wins at this level have come on this surface.  Casper has been serving spectacularly, as he’s yet to be broken at this event, facing only one break point thus far.  They’ve split two previous meetings, with the clay court clash going to Ruud in straight sets, two years ago at Roland Garros.

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (2) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski and Demi Schuurs (3) – Krejcikova and Siniakova won the Gippsland Trophy earlier this season, and reached the final of the Australian Open.  This is the first tournament for Dabrowski and Schuurs as a team.

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen – Mektic and Pavic have now won 31 of 34 matches since teaming up for 2021.  Their Belgian opponents won the Singapore Open earlier this year, then went on a five-match losing streak before reaching the final of Munich last week.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (3) vs. Tim Puetz and Sascha Zverev – Granollers and Zeballos are looking to reach their second final of the season.  This is Puetz and Zverev’s second event this season as a team.  In Miami, the Germans defeated Granollers and Zeballos in straight sets.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Simona Halep Provides Injury Update On Knee Ahead Of US Open

The return of Simona Halep looks a long way away from happening as a knee injury continues to bother the Romanian.

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Simona Halep has provided an update on her knee injury as she faces a race against time to be fit for the US Open.

The former Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion’s comeback has not gone according to plan so far as she returned from a doping ban in Miami earlier this year.

However playing time has been limited for the Romanian as her second tournament of the year ended in a first round retirement at a Challenger event in Paris.

As a result of her retirement Halep was forced to miss Roland Garros and Wimbledon as she looked to recover from a knee injury.

The injury is more serious than meets the eye though as Halep provided an update on her knee injury and revealed it’s an injury that has been occurring for the last few months, “I wanted to provide a little health update since I have been away from the court lately. It is not the best news, but I wanted to share all the same,” Halep revealed on Instagram.

“For a few months now, I have been struggling with a knee injury. It’s an injury I have never had before and it has been a tough one to manage, with the pain persisting. It has been a very difficult period (almost two years) mentally and emotionally for me and struggling physically on top of that definitely doesn’t help.

“I have decided to take the time needed to recover properly, rather than training and playing through pain. My instinct has always been to try to come back as soon as possible, but I am not a machine, I am a human being and I need time to recover from everything I have gone through.

“I’ll keep you posted and, as always, want to thank you for your permanent support. I hope to be back on court very soon.”

Halep now faces a race against time to be fit for the US Open which starts on the 26th of August.

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Alexander Zverev Commits To Olympics, Speaks About Miscommunication Between Olympics And ATP

Alexander Zverev is preparing for his Olympic title defence.

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Alexander Zverev has spoken out on the miscommunication between the Olympics and the ATP tour with tennis’ top stars set to miss some big events on the tour.

The German is getting ready to defend his Olympic title that he won in Tokyo as Zverev heads to Paris.

After narrowly missing out on Roland Garros glory, Zverev now has an opportunity at redemption as he aims for a second consecutive gold medal at the Olympics.

However there is a dilemma for big players this year as the same week as the tennis event at the Olympics at the ATP 500 event in Washington.

This is an event that Zverev usually plays but will have to miss it due to playing in Paris.

Speaking out on the miscommunication, Zverev said it’s no secret that the ATP are not best friends on the Olympics but has committed to the historic event, “The ITF or the Olympics are not best friends with the ATP, that’s not a secret,” Zverev was quoted by Tennis Infinity as saying.

Everybody continues their own tour. Yes, the Olympics is one of the, if not the, most important events we have in sports. So, the best players in the world are always going to play the Olympics over anything else, over points and over prize money.

All the top players went to Wimbledon a few years back, despite having no points on the line. It’s about prestige, it’s not about points or money. It’s about winning these kinds of titles and having medals for your country.

That’s what it’s about. I would never choose to play a 500 event over the Olympics. There are no thoughts on that, and I think Washington is going to be quite an interesting 500 event, I would say.

The ATP 500 event in Washington will be headlined by Grigor Dimitrov, Ben Shelton, Karen Khachanov and Frances Tiafoe as they are among those that have chosen ranking points over the Olympic experience.

As for Zverev he is continuing his Olympic preparations in Hamburg where he will face Pedro Martinez in the semi-finals.

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Rafael Nadal Reveals Delight At Setting Up Ajdukovic Semi-Final After Four Hour Victory

Rafael Nadal has revealed his delight at reaching the Bastad semi-finals after a four hour victory over Mariano Navone.

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(ubitennis/Francesca Micheli)

Rafael Nadal has revealed his delight at reaching the semi-finals in Bastad after a four hour victory over Mariano Navone.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion prevailed in a marathon 6-7(2) 7-5 7-5 victory to reach his first semi-final since Wimbledon 2022.

The Spaniard converted ten of his 21 break point opportunities as he reached the semi-finals.

After the match Nadal revealed his delight at reaching the last four and prevailed Navone for his resilient display, “I lost for some moments my concentration, but I was able to hold physically until the end,” Nadal told the ATP website.

“That is so important for me. Let’s see how I am tomorrow, but today I am alive and in the semi-finals, so that’s very important. There were a lot of changing dynamics in every single set. For moments, he was in control. For moments, I was in control. But at the end, no one was in control! That’s true, and I had a good chance in the second with 3-0. Then I was very close to losing the match in the second set.

“In the third [I was ahead] again with 5-2, but he’s a great fighter and he played a great match. I wish him all the very best for the rest of the season.”

Nadal will now play Duje Ajdukovic in the semi-finals as he aims to continue his eight match winning streak in Bastad with this being his first appearance at the tournament since winning the title in 2005.

The other semi-final will be Nuno Borges against Thiago Agustin Tirante with both players reaching their maiden ATP tour semi-final.

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