Madrid Open 2021: Ash Barty dashes Spanish hopes with semi-final Badosa win

World No1 will go for fourth title of year against Sabalenka or Pavlyuchenkova

Ashleigh Barty (Photo: Mutua Madrid Open / Alberto Nevado)
Ashleigh Barty (Photo: Mutua Madrid Open / Alberto Nevado)

One name that took to the magnificent Manolo Santana court for the first semi-final of the prestigious Mutua Madrid Open was certainly very familiar to the sparse crowd.

Ash Barty was enjoying her 74th week at No1, was a former French Open champion—and doubles champion at the US Open—and reigning WTA Finals champion.

This year, back on tour for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the tour in 2020, she had proven her mettle by winning the Yarra Valley Classic, defending her Miami title, and winning the Stuttgart title via three top-10 opponents—and the doubles titles too.

Come Madrid, she worked her way through a killer quarter of the draw, beating fellow Roland Garros champion in a first meeting with Iga Swiatek, then three-time Madrid champion Petra Kvitova. It had not been easy, as two three-setters vouched for, but her movement, tactical smarts, speed and variety of shot carried her to the semis.

It so happened, though, that the considerably less familiar wild card Paula Badosa was the last woman to beat Barty, in the quarters of Charleston a month ago. She also happened to be Spanish, and was certainly injecting some extra passion into the home crowd deprived of their top woman, Garbine Muguruza, by injury.

The tall 23-year-old Badosa had beaten No8 seed Belinda Bencic to set this semi-final showdown, just the latest in a clay run that reflected her status as a former Roland Garros junior champion.

A semi run in Istanbul last September was followed by a fourth-round run at the French Open, the semis on Lyon’s hard court in March, and the semis in Charleston—where she beat both Bencic and Barty. Her No62 ranking, then, did not do justice to her clay form. That she had become the first wild card and the first Spanish woman in history to reach the semis in Madrid, did.

The Spaniard stayed with Barty for much of the first set, but could not work a break chance. The Aussie, though, converted her one chance to guarantee the opener when Badosa made a nervy double fault, 6-4.

Come the second set, Badosa’s big-hitting, rangy game got its reward with a break in the first game, but it was a short-lived advantage. Barty broke straight back and held for 2-1. And in the fourth game, a big angled forehand from Barty brought up another break point. Badosa double faulted to go 1-3 down.

The Spaniard hit back with a couple of aggressive returns of serve, and not afraid to come forward for the finish, and crowd loved it. She earned three break points, but a perfect drop shot winner from Barty snuffed out her chance, 4-1.

Badosa put up some good resistance to hold for 3-5, but she could not break down Barty’s varied, accurate serving, and the world No1 aced to reach the final, 6-3, after an hour and a quarter.

Badosa was cheered off court, and applauded by Barty, though she was clearly full of emotion. She will certainly be back on the big stages very soon, and admitted that despite her disappointment, her confidence was growing.

“Well, of course, I’m a little bit sad because losing. You never want to lose… But I have to say that I’m very happy.

“Of course, I will have more confidence, I think so [smiling]. I’ve been playing pretty good matches. I can’t wait till Roland Garros. I have a few tournaments before that, as well… I think I won’t be able to go to Rome because I play [have to play] qualies there. I need to recover after all these emotions this week—I will get ready for the other tournaments.”

As for Barty, she remains in control at the top of the ranks, all the more so because No2 Naomi Osaka lost in the second round, and No3 Simona Halep in the third round.

For the title match, she will face whoever comes through the second semi between No5 seed Aryna Sabalenka and the 41-ranked Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who is into her first semi-final since 2019.

Sabalenka has been one of the form players since the French Open last October, winning the titles in Ostrava, Linz, and Abu Dhabi back to back, then losing a close quarter-final to Barty in Miami, followed by a close final against Barty in Stuttgart.

Another contest between two of the biggest winners this year, Barty with 24-3, Sabalenka with 22-6, is certainly on the cards.

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