2021 Madrid Open ATP Round 3 & WTA Semifinals
Semifinals time for the WTA and 3rd round action for the ATP. Medvedev gave us exactly what we didn’t know we wanted, and Paire Paire’d. Also how is Nadal so good? I can watch him 1,000 times and always come away surprised at how good he is. Is this writeup equally good? No. It isn’t possible. He’s so good.
Nadal vs Popyrin :
Going to get snacks to settle in and watch a Nadal match means you’ve missed the first set. Despite being a joy to watch, it almost doesn’t look fair. No matter how many times I watch him or what the scoreline is, the thought “he’s going to win the tournament” appears after the match is over. Alcaraz made for an entertaining match as he hits the ball hard on his forehand, but there was just no way for this to get competitive. The next match will be closer in the scoreline, as Popyrin has a huge serve and the sort of power that makes it into those “the day Nadal lost his temper!” clickbaity videos on youtube. Popyrin was getting the beating that was expected in the first, and was serving at duece over and over, but he won those points. He started going bigger with his forehand and the result was Sinner lost his focus. He started to look a bit shellshocked, and losing a tiebreaker in a set you had locked up can make you feel like you’re hours of effort away from the finish line. To Jannik’s credit, he found a much quicker path to the finish line, throwing in a number of dropshots in the second and just generally succumbing to the pressure that Popyrin’s good serving and power put on him. I didn’t expect his defense to be the one that folded, but here we are. Popyrin does hit the ball hard enough to score on Nadal, but Nadal’s deep positioning may be utilized well here. While playing deep gives your opponent control, Popyrin does make errors, and the letdown that Sinner had likely won’t come against Nadal. This should be really entertaining, because despite his results only starting to come this season, Popyrin’s ceiling is still well above the level he’s playing now. If he plays to his potential at least one set will be close. Nadal is just another level though. Nadal in two.
Evans vs Zverev :
Evans outlasted Millman in a stressful yet comfortable 3 setter. Winning a second by multiple breaks after losing the first in a breaker really opened up his game, and when Evans isn’t under a lot of offensive pressure he is a delight to watch. Zverev didn’t bother losing a first set, rolling fairly easily against Clay Nishikori. My own personal preferences have leaked into my brain a bit with this one, as the scoreline made sense after the match but going in I realized I was almost “willing” Nishikori to win. There’s an immediate spidey sense that goes off after I post something and the more I looked at my “Nishikori +3.5” wager the more I realized it was a hoop dream. If Nishikori can keep the match close, then he would likely be winning since it would require Zverev to have a bad day on serve. He didn’t, and discounting his baseline game as something easy to hit through is just singling out the affairs where his opponent has done so. Evans is another likely candidate to beat the bad Zverev, but it isn’t like I have some number I can dial to schedule an appointment with him. His ease of scoring on serve, the overall power differential, and Evans losing sets in both of his previous matches make Zverev a deserved favorite here. I still dislike him, but it doesn’t seem to affect his ability to exist. Zverev in 2.
Thiem vs De Minaur :
Is De Minaur going to beat Thiem? Thiem looked great early against Giron, but Giron seemed extremely fatigued from his match with Andujar. His shots were somewhat flat, and he had trouble with the high bounce and pace coming off Thiem’s backhand. It looked a bit like Nadal/Alcaraz where there were just pronounced levels of skill differential that wouldn’t be overcome, but Thiem did have some moments where it seemed like Giron could grab a break back in the second set had he possessed some extra energy. De Minaur continued the high level he found against Munar, and was up 6-2, 3-0 when Harris decided that was enough. The retirements this week have come in some less than heroic situations (including Mertens bowing out at 6-1, 4-0) but the result is De Minaur will be completely fresh for this. That strikes me as a key, as Thiem not having played matches means the best path for his opponents is to test his movement and test his endurance. The guy is a superb athlete and trains as well as anyone on tour, so this is partially a hoop dream, but for Alex De Minaur giving up is not an option. Thiem has beaten him several times on hardcourt, and once on clay, so this is a very uphill spot. The good news for De Minaur fans is that his speed and Thiem’s relative easing back into things mean that long rallies might be on the menu. For fans, I think Rublev vs Thiem is the match we’re hoping for in the next round, so although I love an underdog, I’m okay with Thiem winning here. Speculating about his fitness/focus is purely hypothetical, and that’s how good Thiem can play. He’s made the finals of this event twice, and it isn’t as if he’s new on tour and will struggle with any moment. I do think De Minaur will push him as far as he can go, and I’m not ready to back Thiem for any significant sums just yet, but it’s hard to expect Thiem to lose here. Thiem in 3.
Isner vs Rublev :
Isner is playing great, and this is the other spot where I let my own bias influence my writing. Isner was the more aggressive player in rallies today, and he kept the ball in play and moved his feet at a level that hasn’t really been seen from him in a year or so. Volleys that he could have missed found lines, and he read RBA well on passing shots throughout. Still, RBA had chances to win, despite earning 0 break points in this match. Down 5-2 in the final set tiebreaker, RBA kept fistpumping after winning points, and eventually had match point on his own serve. He managed to lose both points on serve as a rally ensued with Isner hitting inside out forehands ended with RBA trying to go down the line a bit prematurely. The “snatch at the idea of victory” down the line backhand is a classic poison, and RBA spent the next few points staring at the net as Isner stole victory from the jaws of agut. As much as I dislike Isner’s game at times, he really is serving incredibly. 0 break points against a returner like RBA is relatively uncharted territory, so even though Thiem Rublev would be amazing Isner will have a chance in this one.
Rublev has been automatic, but the match with Tommy Paul could have gone against him. Tommy served great, and the Rublev power and aggression seemed to play into his hands. A bounce or two in the other direction and Paul would be through, and at times Rublev did show the type of frustration that used to cost him matches. If Isner is able to earn and steal tiebreakers as he did against RBA, the same frustrations could boil over, and Rublev’s extra power/aggression is almost a moot point, as Isner isn’t going to make it to the ball whether it’s struck by Kasatkina or Sabalenka. This will contain tiebreakers, and it’s scary to think that Isner’s run could continue, but he’s been sticky in the rallies and I’d have expected Rublev/RBA to go to three also. Now that I’ve successfully defended Isner’s play, I’m still going to expect Rublev to win this. It will be easy for him to defend his own serve, and the only real risk of him losing is impatience/immaturity which are two demons he has exiled for quite some time now. Rublev in 3.
Karatsev vs Bublik :
Karatsev shouldn’t be my favorite player to watch, but he is. He produces offense that other people aren’t even going for. There’s something refreshing about a guy who isn’t so overcoached that he plays conservative tennis nonstop, and the sharp angles he hits crosscourt are likely extremely difficult to produce for most players but he makes them like it’s a routine shot. Diego really did steal the first set, and Karatsev’s level never dropped again. Things are changing on tour I guess, and it’ll be interesting to see if Karatsev can crack even the top 10 by the end of the year. The ways things are going, it’ll be hard for most players on tour to outearn him, because there are still a great number of hardcourt events with major points on the line to come, and with his serving and fitness he’s likely to make a splash on grass as well. Beating Bublik is not outlandish, but I don’t think Karatsev should be such as large a favorite as he is (landed somewhere around -345). Bublik has been serving great this week, and backed up his solid play against Fucsovics by outdueling Shapovalov in a very skillful contest. Bublik is a guy who is unlikely to want to hang in long rallies with Karatsev, but who does have a game that Karatsev has not faced too often. The huge server/instant offense combo is hard to predict, but when it’s on point there can be a difficulty in breaking serve. As a result, I think Bublik will have a decent chance at the first set. From there, I’d expect Karatsev to hit a good rhythm and close out. He hasn’t faced a tricky player like Bublik before, but what test hasn’t he faced and passed thus far. Karatsev in 2-3.
Tsitsipas vs Ruud :
Tsitsipas had a pretty nice gift playing Paire. Paire seems to be wearing a black t shirt to play his matches, and his beard looks more tired of tennis than he does. He went into the “I’m just going to try hard every point” mode in the second, which resulted in him scrambling back and forth trying to hit the ball quickly back to Tsitsipas. Errors flowed, and for all Paire’s talent he looked like an angry club player that called out the visiting pro for money because his girlfriend said he had nice hair. Grass will likely see a bit of a reprieve for Paire since he can still serve the ball, but him playing against any legit talent right now is hard to watch.
Ruud and Nishioka wear the same uniform, but this was very one-sided. Nishioka tried a lot of different tactics, but Ruud was too adept at covering the court, and the ball kept coming back until Yoshihito forced something out down the line or long. For Tsitsipas vs Ruud I am excited to watch, but not entirely sure what to expect. Neither were particularly pressed in their previous match, so both are getting their first real test of this event. Tsitsipas is having the better season, and competes at a higher level, but it will be very hard to dispatch Ruud in any quick method. They met once before but it was in 2016, with Tsitsipas winning in 3. I do expect Tsitsipas’ shanked errors to make appearances in this, since Ruud hits a very clean ball and will take his time away a bit. The problem for me is Ruud will be scoring mostly with his forehand, and Tsitsipas is likely to nab some cheap points on serve and with some backhands/dropshots. The potential for Tsitsipas to unravel is more likely, but Ruud plays a very disciplined game which may leave him unable to score against Tsitsipas if he isn’t making errors. Tsitsipas in 3.
Berretini vs Delbonis :
Fognini is like a video game character that stopped responding to commands and just wandered off. He sort of stomps about the court muttering things to himself and when the referee gets involved his reaction to them is almost like he’s forgotten anyone else even exists. He didn’t play poorly against Berretini, but the expression on his face was like Matteo shouldn’t ever be winning. Berretini’s winning is likely to continue though, as his serve is a top 10 weapon, and his forehand is a top 10 weapon. His backhand slice is a liability against top competition, but it is very good at keeping the ball low and saves him a lot of time when he utilizes it for defensive gets. Delbonis beat ARV which makes this already the best result he’s had this season, and he won’t particularly be helpless against Berretini, but it’s two very capable offensive players taking the court where only one of them can really play defense. The edge goes to Berretini as a result, but Delbonis should know that if he keeps the ball on Berretini’s backhand long enough, he’ll get frustrated. It’s almost a method of freezing out the forehand, but as humbling as it is to play such a simple desperate strategy, it’s likely the right move against Berretini. The matches he’s lost have included extremely long rallies, and forehand errors at key moments have come. The matches he wins see the ball hit equally to both of his wings, and he’s able to gain control the moment he gets a full swing on the forehand. I don’t think Delbonis is up to the task, but good play in this event should see him playing solid in Rome and RG. Berretini in 2.
Garin vs Medvedev :
Garin continues to roll, and Medvedev continues to be puzzled by clay. He seems fine on the surface, but he can’t seem to hit a single ball cleanly past an opponent. His shot selection is poor at times, and when he opened up and put this match away, it seemed more like his troubles are mental than anything in his physical game. Swiping at the dirt and whining “i don’t want to play here on this surface!” was the high point of the match, which featured a Fokina 1st set win and the usual medical timeout. Medvedev’s problem on clay may be that he wants to lose but can’t really find his way to that result since his tennis and movement are so good. Fokina is excellent, but Medvedev’s B game still got the job done. What bodes well for Garin is that he even more frustrating to play than Fokina. Fokina is the better offensive player, but he looks to win points and this can often give a guy like Medvedev less time to think. Reacting is good for business and spending time upstairs in your own head is not. Garin will be looking to extend rallies rather than counterpunch, and Medvedev will have a very long day at the office. After beating Fokina, Medvedev is likely to see more investment so him being offered at the same price he was in the previous match is a mild position being taken by books. A guy who outwardly doesn’t want to be there can change his mind, but Medvedev’s struggles to hit through the court are a direct connection to his lack of power and how much funky spin he utilizes on hardcourt to win. As long as Garin doesn’t bring the ball up high, it will be tough for Medvedev to end rallies and I am willing to side against his patience here. Garin in 2.
Barty vs Badosa :
This is quietly a huge result for Badosa. Her play has been phenomenal and yet hasn’t seemed too far off from her usual level on tour. Sometimes your peak just coincides with the perfect draw, and she has come through with flying colors despite playing some players whose ranking usually sits at the tier above hers. Huge step up here, as Barty has been just a bit too consistent for everyone she’s faced. Her opponents games have devolved into trying to score points and earn errors, and Barty has been content to just keep the ball in difficult positions to score from which has made life much easier for her. Her serving is the key that is making her so hard to beat for a full match, and her and Kvitova was a very tense and solid match but it always seemed like Kvitova would need a slump from Barty to get through. Badosa might be one of the best baseliners Barty has faced thus far (Swiatek and Kvitova are obviously more accomplished but they tend to live by the sword and play much less measured tennis) and so this could be a slight letdown spot for Barty. The edge in serving though and Barty’s current run make her a heavy favorite in price (-410 on some books) and it’s hard to argue that Badosa can win until she does so. With the fatigue issues of the past few rounds and this being her first major semifinal, the crowd and her skill will be the things bolstering her forward, but I’m not sure where she will score. Barty can play all day, and will likely have a simpler time holding serve for a good chunk of this match. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this went to 3, because so far, no one has been able to outlast Badosa, but Barty’s experience and variety make her a good selection here. Barty in 2-3.
Sabalenka vs Pavlyuchenkova :
You could put Sabalenka vs Godzilla right now and I’d bet on her. It is just ridiculous how aggressive she’s been about going after winners. Even crazier is that she’s produced them nonstop. The forehand crosscourt is getting up over the net and down into the angle in a way that seems to defy physics, and she’s getting so low on her backhand which has really corrected her occasional problems with length when going down the line, and also has made her consciously adjust higher when she’s going to lob it up for more depth crosscourt. Her decisions have been made early, and her execution has been excellent. Mertens had to retire from this one, but she never really seemed to have a chance. Sabalenka for president?
Pavlyuchenkova has one of the hardest names to type, but if she keeps swinging her backhand like she has I’m going to have to type it a lot this season. Muchova ran into a very consistent version of the veteran, and if they edited out the last shot of each rally you’d be sure she won in straights from watching film. Errors came though, and they came in tiebreakers and when she was serving for the set. Just poor timing to lose points, but Pavlyuchenkova was able to maintain her level throughout while Muchova seemed to surge ahead and fall behind. Supplying most of the offense tends to make that happen, and sometimes it just isn’t your day. Muchova and Pavs honestly looked very similar at times in this, but Pavlyuchenkova focused on a few shots and crushing the backhand crosscourt eventually forced Muchova to redirect shots and to try to hit a bit bigger on her forehand and at times this backfired. For any tennis player, locking down on a certain wing may not yield you instant points, but an opponent will give up attacking it after a while so playing error free late in sets was the key for Pavs.
I’m not sure if anyone can stop Sabalenka right now, but Pavlyuchenkova will at least test her defensive abilities. Pavs hits pretty hard, but not as hard. She serves fairly offensively, but doesn’t hit aces like Aryna. It just seems like she’s running into a younger more aggressive version of herself her, and a round after playing another younger more aggressive version this will be a tough tough match. Same as the match above, it wouldn’t be too outlandish for this to go three. Pavs has just beaten Pliskova and Keys and Muchova so she’s dealt with big offense before, and their previous meeting went the way of Pavlyuchenkova so Sabalenka will have some minor doubts creeping in. Still, Sabalenka Barty seems likely to happen a lot this clay season. Sabalenka in 2.