Madrid Open Daily Preview: World No.1 Ash Barty Plays Three-Time Champion Petra Kvitova in the Quarterfinals - UBITENNIS
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Madrid Open Daily Preview: World No.1 Ash Barty Plays Three-Time Champion Petra Kvitova in the Quarterfinals

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Ash Barty, earlier this fortnight in Madrid (twitter.com/MutuaMadridOpen)

With all four women’s quarterfinals to be contested, and six of the top 10 men’s seeds in action, Wednesday offers a stellar Order of Play.  Ash Barty has won her last 14 matches on red clay, but no woman owns more Madrid Open titles than Petra Kvitova.  And in another WTA quarterfinal between seeded players, Aryna Sabalenka and Elise Mertens, who are friends and frequent double partners, will collide on the singles court. 

 

On the men’s side, the remaining second round matches will be completed.  Five-time champion Rafael Nadal will make his 2021 Madrid Open debut, against a fast-rising 17-year-old Spaniard who idolizes the King of Clay.  In addition, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Sascha Zverev, Diego Schwartzman, and Roberto Bautista Agut all face dangerous opposition.

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

Ash Barty (1) vs. Petra Kvitova (9) – Not Before 1:00pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

This will be the tenth meeting between Barty and Kvitova, though only their second on clay, and their first on this surface in nearly a decade.  Their rivalry has been friendly, while also quite even and streaky.  The first four matches went to Kvitova, while the next four went to Barty.  And most recently, Petra prevailed in three sets last February in Doha.  Their only meeting on this surface occurred at the 2012 French Open, when a 16-year-old, inexperienced Barty was ranked 332nd in the world.

Barty is now a superb 34-6 since the start of last year, while Kvitova is 32-7 lifetime in Madrid.  As successful Petra has been in the high altitude of this event, Barty’s recent form makes her the favorite.  Ash has claimed 15 of her last 17 deciding sets, and taken all nine of her matches this year against top 20 players.  In what could be a tight match against the world No.12, Barty should have the confidence required to advance.

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (WC) – Not Before 3:00pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

What a day this will be for Carlos Alcaraz.  On the day of his 18th birthday, he’ll face his idol for the first time, at his country’s biggest tournament.  These two Spaniards practiced together earlier this year at the Australian Open, but stepping into the Magic Box against Rafael Nadal will be a very different experience for the teenager.

Over the past two years, Alcaraz has quickly risen up the rankings.  When the tour restarted last August, he was ranked outside the top 300.  But he’s since won three Challenger titles on clay, and is now approaching the top 100.  Carlos has already been anointed as Spain’s next great player, so this may be an intergenerational match we may look back on for years to come.

Nadal got off to a slow start this clay season, losing in the quarterfinals of Monte-Carlo to Andrey Rublev in a subpar performance.  But Rafa rebounded strongly the very next week in Barcelona, saving a match point to overcome Stefanos Tsitsipas in a magnificent final.  And while Madrid has easily been Nadal’s least successful stop during the European clay swing, he’s still 50-9 at this event, with five titles.  As fascinating as this matchup is, an Alcaraz victory feels far-fetched.

Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Aryna Sabalenka (5) vs. Elise Mertens (13) – Sabalenka leads their head-to-head 4-2, which includes wins in their last three matches.  However, Mertens prevailed in their only previous clay court encounter, three years ago in Lugano.  Both players own recent victories over Simona Halep, and it was Mertens who upset the two-time Madrid champion just yesterday.

Belinda Bencic (8) vs. Paula Badosa (WC) – They played on clay a few weeks ago in Charleston, with Badosa winning in three sets.  The 23-year-old from Spain also upset Ash Barty at that same event.

Karolina Muchova vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – Muchova defeated Naomi Osaka two rounds ago, and last night played until nearly midnight, in a grueling three-setter with Maria Sakkari.  Pavlyuchenkova has also earned consecutive victories over seeded players, in Karolina Pliskova and Jennifer Brady.  Anastasia claimed their only prior encounter, in 2019 on a hard court.

Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – Medvedev is a combined 0-8 in his career between Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros.  The 21-year-old Spaniard just recently reached the quarterfinals in Monte-Carlo, and won the clay event last year in Chile.

Sascha Zverev (5) vs. Kei Nishikori – Zverev has been dealing with an elbow injury, and has lost three of his last five matches.  Nishikori earned a solid win yesterday over Karen Khachanov.  Sascha is 2-1 against Kei, though their only match on clay went to Nishikori.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) vs. Benoit Paire – Tsitsipas started the clay season on a nine-match winning streak, but is coming off his emotional loss to Rafael Nadal in Barcelona.  Just yesterday, Paire ended a seven-match losing streak.  When they played this past March in Acapulco, Stefanos dropped just four games.

Diego Schwartzman (7) vs. Aslan Karatsev – This is a rematch from February’s Australian Open, when Karatsev upset Schwartzman in straight sets, on the way to the semifinals in his first-career Major.  Diego won a clay title earlier this season in his home country of Argentina, while Karatsev has reached finals in both Dubai and Belgrade.

Roberto Bautista Agut (9) vs. John Isner – The Spanish veteran advanced to the semifinals of this event in 2014, but is only 5-5 here since that time.  Isner has only played eight matches this year, one of which was a loss to Bautista Agut in Miami, a match decided by a third-set tiebreak.

Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Indian Wells Daily Preview: Championship Sunday

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Paula Badosa earlier this week at Indian Wells (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Sunday’s men’s and women’s singles championship matches feature a two-time champion and three first-time finalists at this level.  Victoria Azarenka won this event in 2012 and 2016, two of 10 WTA 1000 titles to her credit.  Paula Badosa, Cam Norrie, and Nikolaz Basilashvili are all vying for the biggest title of their careers, during what has become their best seasons to date.

 

Paula Badosa (21) vs. Victoria Azarenka (27)  – 1:00pm on Stadium 1

For Azarenka, this result is a bit of a surprise, despite all she’s achieved in the sport.  Her record of 28-8 is more than solid, but she’s dealt with multiple injuries throughout 2021, forcing her to withdraw during five different events.  This is her first final since nearly a full year ago in Ostrava. 

For Badosa, this result has been expected for some time.  She’s been most impressive this season, accumulating 40 match wins, and a record of 10-3 against the top 20.  Paula herself will debut inside the top 20 on Monday, and would be just a few points shy of the top 10 with a win on Sunday.

Azarenka will attempt to win her first final since April of 2016.  While she was the champion of last year’s Western & Southern Open, she received a walkover in the championship match from Naomi Osaka.  Vika is 0-3 in her last three finals, all on hard courts.  This is only the second WTA final for Badosa, who claimed the title in Belgrade this past May on clay.  Based on the way the Spaniard has been clubbing her groundstrokes, and her comfort level on these slow-playing courts, I’m going with Badosa to win the second title of her young career.

Cameron Norrie (21) vs. Nikoloz Basilashvili (29)  – Not Before 4:00pm on Stadium 1

Norrie has been one of the most surprising and remarkable stories of 2021.  Prior to this season, he had never been ranked inside the top 40.  But like Badosa, he will debut in the top 20 on Monday, thanks to a record of 46-20 on the year. 

Basilashvili has made news for other reasons, as he was arrested last year on domestic abuse allegations from his former wife.  On the tennis court, he’s been quite streaky this season.  Between January and March, he went on a five-match losing streak before winning the title in Doha, which includes victories over Roger Federer and Roberto Bautista Agut.  He was also the champion in Munich, and came through qualifying to reach the semis in Halle.

Basilashvili’s last loss before his successful run in Doha was at the hands of Norrie, who prevailed 6-0, 6-3 in Rotterdam.  Cam has dominated his last two matches this week in similar fashion, defeating Diego Schwartzman and Grigor Dimitrov while dropping only eight games across four sets.  The Brit has now won his last six semifinals, but his record in finals in striking different.  He’s only 1-4 this year in championship matches, and lost to Casper Ruud two weeks in San Diego 6-0, 6-2.  Meanwhile, Nikoloz has taken his last five finals, dating back to July of 2018.  With the biggest title of their careers on the line, Basilashvili is the favorite to utilize his powerful groundstrokes to secure victory.

Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Indian Wells Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals

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Grigor Dimitrov after his quarterfinal win on Thursday (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Saturday’s men’s singles semifinals are quite surprising, featuring four players ranked outside the world’s top 25.  Cam Norrie and Grigor Dimitrov will square off in the first semi, in a rematch from earlier this season in Miami.  The second semifinal is also a rematch from March of this year, as Nikoloz Basilashvili and Taylor Fritz actually played in back-to-back weeks seven months ago, during the two weeks when this tournament normally takes place.

 

Also on Saturday, the men’s and women’s doubles championship matches will be contested.  The women’s final will start the day at 11:00am local time, while the men’s final will close out play after the singles semifinals are completed.

Cameron Norrie (21) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (23)  – Not Before 1:30pm on Stadium 1

What a breakout season this has become for Cam Norrie.  The Brit is now 45-20 this year, and has been victorious in his last five semifinals.  Since his run to the final of San Diego two weeks ago, Cam has defeated four top 20 players: Shapovalov, Rublev, Bautista Agut, and Schwartzman.  Dimitrov also gained crucial momentum in San Diego, advancing to the semis and narrowly going down in defeat to eventual champion Casper Ruud.  Prior to that, 2021 had been a poor season for Grigor, as he was only 15-14.  Dimitrov’s last two wins this week were his most impressive in a long time.  He first came back from a set and two breaks down against top-seeded Medvedev, then survived a third-set tiebreak against Hubert Hurkacz.  When Norrie and Dimitrov met at the Miami Masters event in March, Cam prevailed 7-5, 7-5.  In the last round, Norrie simply walloped Diego Schwartzman 6-0, 6-2.  Based on his current level of play, I like Cam to win his sixth straight semifinal.

Nikoloz Basilashvili (29) vs. Taylor Fritz (31) – Third on Stadium 1

What a comeback Fritz staged on Friday.  Down 5-2 in the third and two match points against a red-hot Sascha Zverev, he fought back to eventually prevail in a tiebreak for what was the best and most exciting win of his career.  Taylor has now taken out three consecutive top 15 players: Zverev, Sinner, and Berrettini.  Basilashvili had compiled an up-and-down year, but when he’s on, he’s been tough to defeat.  He’s already claimed two titles this year, in Doha and Munich.  It was in Doha where Basilashvili overcame Fritz in the semifinals.  A week later, Fritz avenged that loss in Dubai, in a match decided by a third-set tiebreak.  Their only other meeting occurred four years ago in Chengdu, when Taylor won as a qualifier ranked 94th in the world.  Coming off the emotional high of his huge, thrilling victory on Friday, I expect it will be difficult for the American to recover and be at his best on Saturday.  That leaves Nikoloz with an enormous opportunity to reach the biggest final of his career, and he possesses strong groundstrokes which enable him to dictate the outcome.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2) vs. Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Rybakina – Hsieh and Mertens are looking for their second title as a team, after prevailing at Wimbledon in July.  Kudermetova and Rybakina just began teaming in August, when they reached the semifinals in Canada.

John Peers and Filip Polasek (7) vs. Aslan Karatsev and Andrey Rublev – Peers and Polasek were finalists two weeks ago in San Diego.  The Russians have won their last eight matches as a team, dating back to their title run in Qatar this past March.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Daniil Medvedev Withdraws From Moscow

Daniil Medvedev has withdrawn from Moscow as he looks to recover for the last two tournaments of the season.

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Daniil Medvedev (@BNPPARIBASOPEN - Twitter)

US Open champion Daniil Medvedev has withdrawn from his home tournament in Moscow as he looks to get fully fit for the rest of the season.

 

The world number two suffered a disappointing exit in the fourth round of Indian Wells when he lost to Grigor Dimitrov from a set and 4-1 up.

After that disappointment Medvedev has decided to take some time off and therefore withdraw from the Kremlin Cup next week in Moscow.

Citing not being at 100% the Russian will now look to be fit for the rest of the season which ends at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, “Hello everyone! I am really sad to announce that this year I won’t be participating in Kremlin cup,” Medvedev announced on his social media platforms.

“It’s always special to have a chance to play in front of Russian fans. I signed in to give myself best chances to play, but with calendar this year being extremely tough I felt that my body is not ready 100% anymore.

“This decision was very tough for me but it has to be done in order to be able to finish 2021 season strong! Thank you and see all soon!”

Medvedev will next play the last Masters 1000 event in Paris-Bercy before finishing his season in Turin as he looks to finish his historic season with a flourish.

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