• In wide-open field, No1 is up for grabs by former Madrid champ Simona Halep or Angelique Kerber
• Current No1 Naomi Osaka is one of seven former No1s in draw and one of 10 Major champions
• Defending champion Petra Kvitova is only woman in draw with more than one title in 2019
And there are few more iconic venues on the tour than the ultra-modern Caja Magica, a tennis facility that has set the standard for the elite in men’s and women’s tennis.
No fewer than three of the clay show courts can be closed at the click of a switch against any inclement weather, and there is no shortage of still more cover from sun and rain for the tens of thousands of fans who support the tournament.
But its outstanding facilities are not the primary reason that the very best come to the Spanish capital. This is one of the most lucrative stops on the WTA tour, both in prize money and points: a purse of over $7million and 1,000 points to the champion.
This year’s draw finds just one of its scheduled 16 seeds missing, world No11 Serena Williams, and a total of just four women ranked high enough for a place in the 64-woman draw.
But the quality does not end there. Remarkably, just one woman this year has won more than one title, and that happens to be the defending Madrid champion Petra Kvitova, who launched her clay campaign with victory at the Stuttgart Premier just a week ago.
And the breadth of talent in women’s tennis is also matched by its depth. For example, the last nine Majors have been won by eight different players—the only one able to double up is the winner of the last two, No1 Naomi Osaka. And overall, there are 10 Major champions in the draw, even with both Serena and Venus Williams missing.
Osaka, though, is only one of seven former No1s in Madrid, and her place at the top is under threat from two of them. If Osaka fails to reach the semi-finals, two-time Madrid champion Simona Halep could seal No1 with the title. And Angelique Kerber could return to the top for the first time since 2017 if she wins the title—though Osaka, who has already beaten Dominika Cibulkova to reach the second round, would have to lose her next match against wild card Sara Sorribes Tormo.
There have, for sure, been some upsets already. Former No1 and runner-up in Madrid, Caroline Wozniacki, was forced to retire in her opener as her battle with rheumatoid arthritis continues.
The form of Garbine Muguruza at her big home tournament fell short again with a loss in her opener. She has only once made it as far as the third round in Madrid in what is now her eighth appearance.
Other seeds to join the first-round exits were Madison Keys, Julia Goerges, Qiang Wang, Aryna Sabalenka, Anett Kontaveit, and No6 Elina Svitolina.
And one more woman among the big names would have to watch her step if she was to make the third round. Sloane Stephens faced the unseeded Victoria Azarenka—twice a finalist in Madrid—and the match certainly lived up to their previous 3-3 record.
Stephens won the pair’s last three matches, but Azarenka had only begun to make her way back onto the big stage over the last year, after giving birth to a son in 2016 and then facing protracted custody battles.
This year, however, Azarenka had twice beaten top-10 players, and she looked pumped to do the same again in a contest that would last more than two hours.
There was little to choose between them in the first few games as both pounded deep from the baseline. Stephens missed the chance to break in the sixth game as Azarenka upped her serving level, and the two women went on a 14-point run of holding serve right up to 40-0 on the Belarusian’s serve, 4-5. Then Stephens thumped a huge forehand to break the run against serve, stepped inside the court again to take the ball early, and won four more points for the break and set, 6-4.
With a quick opening hold in set two, Stephens went 14-17 on her serve, but then she took her foot off the pedal, threw in a poor service game, and Azarenka saw her chance. Now it was her turn to step in and capitalise on some second serves, and she broke.
Azarenka dug in to hold off a break chance in the sixth game, broke again for 5-2, and got away with a couple of double faults to serve out the set, 6-2.
It proved to be a wake-up call to Stephens, who fended off trouble in the third game to hold, and then broke in the sixth game, 4-2. Her formidable forehand was back in its groove, and she accelerated to the finish line with a final break, 6-2.
Stephens was followed onto the huge, echoing Centre Court by defending champion Kvitova, who took on former runner-up Kristina Mladenovic. The two had played each other seven times before, with Kvitova holding a 6-1 advantage.
The Czech extended that run with a seventh win, 6-3, 7-6(5), in a tough couple of hours that had some wayward serving on both sides, but also some big-time ball-striking from the baseline. After an early exchange of breaks, Kvitova fended off another threat and broke again, sealing the first set with 11 winners to four from the French woman.
It was a similar story in the second set, a break apiece, but was ultimately decided in a gritty tie-break. Kvitova came through the 97-point set with just one more point than her opponent.
Elsewhere in Kvitova’s bottom quarter, last year’s runner-up Kiki Bertens beat Jelena Ostapenko, 6-4, 6-3, and will next play No12 seed Anastasija Sevastova. It will be their third meeting at the same tournament in consecutive years—with a win apiece.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge