May 07, 2021

2021 Madrid Open ATP Quarterfinals & WTA Finals

Things are getting late in Madrid, with the WTA finals featuring the two players on tour who are really in the best form. The men are into the quarterfinals, and there are some unexpected names there which is great for the tour and should see more unsung heros competing harder in Rome.

ATP Quarterfinals
Nadal vs Zverev :

All of Popyrin’s games were well earned, but they were too spread out. Nadal plays so subdued yet is still at a level that overwhelms most players. When he finally unleahes a forehand or backhand his opponents tend to not even take a step in the right direction. He really has such instant and useful patterns almost memorized for every situation that his execution is only really dependent on physical ability, which he has in spades. Popyrin will be excited for a few more clay events, but grass and clay may prove really beneficial for his ranking as well as he’s serving.

Zverev meanders through matches with varying degrees of confidence and it keeps lesser opponents involved. He’ll play reserved tennis for a while and struggle, then he’ll crush a return and the idea that he can open up and just dominate will enter and he’ll send the next ball wide going down the line. When he was willing to play multiple shots though, the difference in power was evident. Zverev has only to merge the two ideas to really get the best out of his game. Play the safe patient game, but add a little more power and pace to it. Evans had a small chance to send this to three as Zverev was a little shaky in the tiebreaker, but the ability to score on serve is always a huge factor in a tiebreaker, and Evans went a bit too quickly to the dropshot on a few points and got punished.

Zverev has historically played Nadal very well. He was almost his first huge win on tour, and he’s beaten him on hardcourt in their last two meetings. It seems that the backhand stability and the heavy ball that he’s able to generate are good weapons to have against Nadal, but in this event Nadal has been at a way higher level. I cheer for the upset often when Zverev plays, but oddly I’m not terribly excited to see him get the beats from Nadal. The outcome seems almost set in stone, so I’m hoping Zverev gives us an entertaining contest. Nadal in 2.

Thiem vs Isner :

De Minaur proved to be allllllllmost good enough to tumble Thiem. Thiem had a decided power advantage, and turned in a very solid performance that featured reliability when he needed it. Closing out the tiebreaker with an exceptional backhand down the line on the run was probably the highlight of the match, but it was a good quality affair. De Minaur was a bit unlucky for Thiem to convert the shot, but the book is out on ADM and the inside out forehand is something he may want to go against on points where his opponent will have to pick a side. Isner faced 0 break points in his previous match against RBA, and Rublev returned the favor in a heartbreaking effort. Playing peak Isner is just exhausting and almost like being handed a scratchoff lottery ticket when you finally get to the end of the 2-3 hours. Tiebreakers are just very random and Rublev Thiem would have been great but Isner’s run is well deserved as he’s serving great, volleying well, and going after his forehand when he has the chance. This whole week is a bonus for Isner since grass and hardcourt are where he usually secures his ranking, but he won’t lose easily playing at the level he is.

This is a match Thiem should win, and so he will. Isner’s serving means he can make it to tiebreakers, but I wonder how many rounds in a row he can play extremely long 3 setters with that giant frame. Thiem Nadal is really all I’ve wanted since I saw the draw, and I’m not going to stop wanting it now. The Buddha said something about desire being the cause of all suffering, well bring on da suffering. No disrespect to Rublev, but Thiem is a step up in level on clay, and he’ll be the much fresher player. Thiem in 2.

Bublik vs Ruud :

Not the semifinal most people expected, but these are two very deserving players. Bublik was able to outduel Karatsev with extremely beautiful skill and dangerous serving. The casual and quick way he plays the match has to be frustrating for his opponents and the nonstop offense can at times take your mind away from generating your own shots. The “keep it going til he misses” window seems to be closing for Bublik (this week at least) and although his effort level seems to tank at smaller events, he certainly has proven he can step it up. Ruud got the benefit of Tsitsipas missing some good opportunities to close out the first. Early in the tiebreaker, Tsitsipas had an easy forehand inside out from a few feet behind the net and pushed it wide even though Ruud was off the court. A few points later, he had Ruud off the court against and pushed a volley long. Not the end of the world, but points that would have swung the tide of this massively. The second was more of the same, but Tsitsipas seemed to be somewhat subdued and Ruud began to go a little bigger on his backhand on the big points. It was probably Ruud’s best win so far on tour, and he got there with consistency and hard work, which make it even more deserved.

Ruud’s forehand and consistency are the things that make him a favorite in this contest, but the idea that Bublik will just disappear is preposterous. He’s held his serve at a great clip all tournament, and Ruud has struggled to break serve at times against less offensive players. It would not be unreasonable to think that Bublik could get to a tiebreaker, and since Ruud’s backhand is more of a stable wing than an offensive threat, Bublik will have somewhat of a target when he’s in trouble in rallies. The type of offense Bublik played so far will be necessary, but I think Ruud’s lack of aggression will work against Bublik here by dragging him into longer rallies than he wants to be in. This is a great spot to hope for Bublik to play well, honestly. It would make for a great match, and the more success he has in late rounds on tour the more likely he is to find that desire and motivation to play his best tennis all the time. As a fan, there are few players as entertaining as him when he’s winning. He’s like Kyrgios if he actually had skill from the baseline and a good attitude. Ruud should make this one difficult enough to bring his physical ability into the equation, so I think he will triumph in the end. Ruud in 3.

Berretini vs Garin :

Berretini seemed like he was in a world of trouble against Delbonis. Federico was landing his first serve very well and when he’s doing that, his next shot becomes a big problem for anyone on tour because of his power. He was up early in the 1st set tiebreaker and had a simple dropshot to execute for 3-0, but missed it. It was a theme in this one as Berretini just seemed to execute better when he had chances to put things away. His forehand carried him through and his serving has been great this week. In the second set Delbonis was down a quick 2-0, but managed to fight back to 3-3. It was a quality match but in the end it seemed Berretini was a little more comfortable with the idea of winning.

Garin and Medvedev was what was expected. Medvedev played solid but couldn’t find his way out of rallies. Garin played steady but couldn’t pull away in the scoreline. In the third set, it just seemed like Medvedev was ready to go home. I don’t hate the quality of his play here, but it just seems like a guy who’s so very consistent and has a big serve would be more capable on clay, despite his particular ball not really being the best suited to the game. After this, I don’t expect much from him in Rome either. Losing to Garin is not a huge problem, but I think we all have things and activities that drive us crazy and it’s not often that we grow out of that overnight.
Garin can certainly beat Berretini, but it will have to be fatigue that gets him across the finish line. Berretini’s offense is top level stuff, and his forehand is strong enough to hit past Garin, but not for a full match. It is always difficult to supply all the offense, and since Garin is content to extend rallies, Berretini’s success and control may end up biting him. Winning the first set, and winding up throwing in one bad game in the second can put you in a third set where you’ve won 80% of the match but now have lost all the momentum and almost seem like the underdog. Declaring Berretini tired is speculative at best, but I expect this to be decided in three, and decided by how long Berretini is able to keep control of the rallies. I started out pretty sure Berretini would win, but now I almost think I’ve made a case for Garin. I’d avoid this one wholeheartedly as a bettor, but Garin in 3.

WTA Finals
Barty vs Sabalenka :

This looks familiar. This rivalry is one I’d get used to, as very few other players on tour are playing at the level these two are. Barty seemed very much in control against Badosa, who made a great run but didn’t have a way to end points against Barty’s defending. Pavlyuchenkova didn’t even play poorly, but the familiar sight of players running helplessly after Sabalenka’s forehands was on display again. Sabalenka seems like she’s never played better than she has the past few weeks, and although she lost to Barty recently, I expect there is a strong argument for her to win the title here. Barty’s slice is a good method to slow rallies down, and her ability to keep her more offensive opponents on the run this week has been great. Sabalenka has been very aggressive returning, but Barty’s serving has been as good as it ever has been. There likely won’t be a lot to separate them, but with a recent loss, Sabalenka will find it easier to climb the hill than Barty will to fend off the onslaught. I think Aryna’s offense will at some point be too consistent/produceable for the tour to really stop her, so it’ll be exciting if that time is now. Expecting fireworks, Sabalenka in 3.