May 05, 2021

2021 Madrid Open ATP Round Two & WTA Quarterfinals

Madrid! Fun fact : Madrid once was the home of over 4,000 different species of dragon. Don’t believe me? Good call. ATP 2nd round matches and WTA quarterfinal writeups are below :

Nadal vs Alcaraz :

Nadal. Strong. Small. Crab arms. Butt adjustments. Hair that grows back and then goes away again. Pink and purple shirts that somehow look like the coolest jerseys available. Interviews that are endlessly quotable. Energy that does not run out. Shots that no one else even attempts, routinely performed. The list of qualities and features to this guy is endless. It’s hard to really add much that is not already known about him, and analyzing his matches is like trying to place a wager on Spiderman in a movie named Spiderman. He hasn’t been at his best this season, but you always expect him to win. Alcaraz was comfortable in beating Mannarino, and you can expect the crowd to get behind him anytime he hits a great shot, but at this stage his backhand may be a bit too straightforward to win here. He struggles with errors when he goes down the line, and he doesn’t hit hard enough when he goes cross to really take Nadal’s time away. Should be a fun contest, but Nadal in two is pretty likely.

Popyrin vs Sinner :

Struff looked very out of sorts against Popyrin, handing over the usual errors but looking like his footwork and mental focus weren’t present. He didn’t seem to have a clear gameplan and suffered as a result. Popyrin, having come through qualifying, was at a small advantage with the flow of play as he was pretty well pointed towards the finish line at all times. Sinner got a nice bonus as Pella retired from yet another match. Hopefully he’s able to work out his physical issues towards the end of this year, because for now it seems like he’s just picking up checks and new maladies every time he takes the court. Popyrin Sinner has the look of a one-sided contest, yet this could go deep. Popyrin’s serve will have to carry him, as they’re about even in the power department. Popyrin at times takes a full swing and crushes the ball, but Sinner is doing that on every point so unforced errors will likely the downfall of Popyrin as he’ll have to hit well to stay even in the contest. At this point Sinner is a guy like Rublev; he’s not necessarily unbeatable, but he’s been turning in consistent performances everywhere he goes for a long enough time that you can start to have faith even if he has a tricky opponent. Sinner in 2.

Millman vs Evans :

John Millman continued his solid play, outlasting Hurkacz in round one. Hurkacz’s achilles heel seems to be guys who make him play all the offense. Millman’s run finds a winnable match, but one where his grinding style may not yield such immediate results. Evans is by no means a fitness guru, but he is very comfortable on the baseline, and willing to play long points. He has pretty much every shot you’d want, and although he’s not very tall, his compact swings tend to make him a bit more consistent than similar players (stylistically at least). He has the speed and fitness to beat Millman, so it will really come down to him isolating Millman’s backhand, and executing well when he has opportunities. His win against Chardy wasn’t one-sided, but it does show that Evans is playing at a solid level here (so we can discount his loss to Moutet a bit as a hangover from his great run in Monte Carlo. Evans has a lot of work to do here, because Millman’s main goal on court is to make the match long and make the points difficult, but at least the game will be somewhat on his racquet. The only reason I wouldn’t call this lopsidedly for Evans is that Millman played Ruud pretty even just a week ago in a spot where Ruud was -700 and where it seemed that Millman had little to no path to victory. Evans in 3.

Nishikori vs Zverev :

Karen Khachanov and Clay Nishikori could have played 100 sets and wound up separated by the same margin. Their match was extremely close and as usual Khachanov plays to the level of his opponents but can’t quite get across the finish line. These points can’t go against him forever, and similar runs where you manage to break every time a spot arises can happen so this is just a bump in the road. Nishikori can look exhausted on court at times, but he never stops running. He’ll have a tough round here, but a winnable one. Zverev’s physical ability is dragging along his mental weakness. His serving woes don’t seem to be going anywhere, but his serve has gotten wayyyyy better when it lands. His forehand still loses the plot and starts rolling the ball in at times, but he hits it hard enough that it’s still tough to take advantage of. His backhand stops playing offense at times, but it’s so solid and his speed is so good that his losses take forever anyway. It’s like watching a baby deer learn to walk. I know that in a short time I won’t be able to run half as fast as it can, but for now I’m pretty sure I will be getting the W. Nishikori has a long road if he wants to win this one, simply because Zverev can hang in rallies forever. Zverev has serving woes, but they tend to be situational. Nishikori doesn’t have much of a serve at all, and while he’s obviously used to defending it, he needs to stay level in the scoreline in order to get the frustrated errors that lead Zverev to drift back. That drifting will allow Nishikori time to dictate and will take away some of the sting of Zverev’s power. I’m sure Zverev’s coaches have told him that playing 5-10 feet behind the baseline is the reason he loses so many matches, but he doesn’t seem concerned. If he drifts here, he will lose. Nishikori is too good at creating probing angles and down the line shots with his backhand, and his forehand can execute the short angle fairly well also. I don’t think this is a good spot for Zverev to show up at his peak, so I’m leaning towards Kei being the winner. Nishikori in 3.

Bautista-Agut vs Isner :

Grumble. I was really hoping Kecmanovic would win. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Miomir speak or complain, which is a sharp contrast to the other first round loser in this matchup. Cecchinato put on one of the best losing performances he ever has, and he had opportunities to win the third as well but he just wears his heart on his sleeve when he plays and it gives his opponents too much energy at times. Roberto was happy to keep the ball in play, never deviating and always believing. It’s a marvel that he’s able to stay as composed as he does on the court, and I honestly feel bad for the players that had to play him in the juniors. Isner and RBA have had a number of extremely long contests, so it’s standard to expect that this will also be decided in tiebreakers. Saying I think RBA will win is not saying much, and it is probably more of a hope than a sure thing. I don’t enjoy Isner’s game on clay, and RBA Rublev in the next round should be very fun. RBA in 3.

Schwartzman vs Karatsev :

When these two last met Karatsev was relatively unknown. The books had him at something absurdly cheap, which prompted me to back Karatsev. Part of understanding that the bookmakers never lose means that when they give away information, it’s generally best to sit it out or simple agree. The ensuing contest was one of the best displays of offense from start to finish that I have ever seen. Diego makes his living on tour by making it very obvious that he plans to rally all day, and Karatsev hit the ball past him over and over. These shots are things we’re growing accustomed to now, as Aslan has had one of the best 2021’s anyone really could, but Schwartzman spent much of this match looking at his box shaking his head. Karatsev is the hot hand here, but Schwartzman has had a look at his opponent, and will know what is coming here. He’s one of the top 5 players on clay (Nadal, Novak, Thiem, Tsitsipas, Diego for my $ although Rublev may be cracking in there after this season) and has wins against Nadal and Thiem which is really all you can ask for. Karatsev certainly can still win, and one of the things that’s impressive to me is how continuous his assault is in rallies. Players challenge him to hit to closing targets and he executes over and over. It’s something you just don’t see on tour. He also has pyramids for calves which is not exactly impressive, but certainly is something I’ve never seen before. I started this section intending to back Schwartzman but it’s just very hard to demand the type of performance that it will take to beat Karatsev, and Diego will likely be winning from outlasting and outworking Karatsev which was more believable before he outplayed Novak Djokovic for 3 hours. Someone in 3.

Ruud vs Nishioka :

Ruud continued his good play by besting FAA in straight sets. It must seem like a pretty good reward to get struggling lefty hardcourt specialist Nishioka in round two, and besides the Paire upset, Nishioka beating Krajinovic in straights is likely the most surprising result of round one. Ruud has enough power to really do damage to Nishioka’s backhand, and fatigue is his only real enemy here. Nishioka is playing well, and Ruud’s backhand is very mundane, so this could seem close for a long time, but it’s hard to imagine Casper not finding his opportunities on the forehand, and as good as he plays on clay it’s likely he can overcome a lapse in judgement or his somewhat classic forehand shanks. Ruud in 2-3.

Paire vs Tsitsipas :

Watching the replay of the Munich finals, it doesn’t seem like Paire would even win a game against Basilashvili. The H2H sat in Paire’s favor but nothing about his play nor his reaction to his recent losses indicated he would show up here. He sort of didn’t. Both players made errors in bunches, and Basilashvili seemed to revert back to his “i’m going to lose to anyone and i’m in a rush to do it” method. I’d write a bit more here, but Paire’s been a real muppet lately and Tsitsipas is likely to roll him. Tsitsipas in 2.

Ramos vs Delbonis :

Odd for me that Delbonis is a favorite in this one. PCB had their match locked up, and just sort of slowly imploded. ARV is running on fumes, but his fumes have been getting him all the way to the finals of events recently. Fritz had chances to win, but he just continues to make errors on balls where he’s not really going for anything. I’m not sure if it’s lack of training, or just deceleration on balls where he should go for more, but keeping the ball in play does not seem to be a good plan for him. I’d like to see him redline his game more, even if he gets fatigued and loses some matches. He hit a really nice gear against Novak where he was hugging the baseline and going for winners and his backhand excelled in that strategy for once.

Delbonis should win here, but I’m not sure he will. ARV doesn’t just make errors because he’s tired, but he does give up the offensive assault when he is. Delbonis’ big hitting and serving are such that when he wins rallies it usually is with big booming offense, and taking the racquet out of ARV’s hand is usually the only path through him. It’s a very “prove it” situation though, and despite ARV’s fatigue I see this match as a lefty version of Karatsev and Diego. Delbonis has won their last two meetings, and ARV had some medical timeouts in the match with Fritz, so I think he gets across the finish line here eventually. Delbonis in 2-3.

Garin vs Koepfer :

Verdasco is not really ready to compete yet, but it’s nice to see the skillful lefty out there. Garin is a suspect dude as far as winning in the early rounds, but once he gets in a rhythm it becomes very tiring work to beat him. Koepfer will find that out I suspect, as the talented lefty is prone to fatigue within matches and will have to play a ton of balls to win. Koepfer is a very emotional fellow out there, fistpumping after long rallies or breaks of serve. By contrast, Garin looks like he just woke up, and also like he wants to go to sleep. I will take the slumbering Chilean, but I expect some momentum shifts in this since Garin doesn’t have the type of weapons to put anyone away quickly. Garin in 3.

Davidovich Fokina vs Medvedev :

Herbert allllllmost won that first round match. It was wildly entertaining, and this one should be despite the scoreline likely not being as close. Books have opened Medvedev at around -160 for this one, which is basically saying “he is going to lose”. Med’s troubles on clay have been well documented, and his complaints about the surface have not done anything to make people fear drawing him. It’s good to be honest, but admitting that you don’t enjoy a surface gives people extra motivation to compete hard when they meet you on that surface. ADF has the complete game that is necessary to battle with Daniil, and has been on a great run for the past few weeks. Medvedev on clay in this event reminds me a bit of Federer at the last French Open. You know he’s not exactly hellbent on winning the title but he’s still good enough to beat anyone he plays. The guy says he doesn’t like the surface. The books risk huge exposure on his side if he wins this match (the market for Fokina is not anywhere near the size of Medvedev, who actually drew so much money at the Australian Open that he was a pickem with Novak Djokovic). I’d like to argue but I am just a simple turtle, and Fokina is a great candidate for competing here. Fokina in 2.

Barty vs Kvitova :

This is shaping up to be a great tournament. Swiatek raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first set against Barty, and that was probably the last time that Barty missed the court. Swiatek wound up forcing offense with her forehand and sending the ball long a bit too much, and as the match got late the pressure mounted which made it much tougher to swing freer. She hung around and made Barty serve it out, but Ashleigh really served well and kept her forehand angles very low and sharp. She made great use of the momentum of shifting to her left and hitting the inside-in forehand, and this play scored over and over on Swiatek. Kvitova outlasted Kudermetova, but this is a bit of a step up. These two always play a highly enjoyable 3-setter, but I am not sure here that Barty won’t be able to win in 2. Her serving is great at the moment, and her defending is at times the best on tour. She’ll be the fresher player, and hasn’t lost a match in quite some time. Kvitova has the puncher’s chance, but it reminds me a bit of the Isner RBA match where one player will only win if they put together something really special. Barty in 3.

Badosa vs Bencic :

Sevastova Badosa was amazing. Nonstop long rallies, nonstop medical timeouts, and at one point both players left the court simultaneously to get treatment. Badosa was a bit stronger in the end, but it was a great tournament for Sevastova who has had a weird couple seasons on tour. Bencic got a retirement from Jabeur, which makes her the much fresher player. I felt Badosa had a better level going into this match, and that her movement around the court would mean long and difficult rallies for Bencic, but the medical timeouts really make me question how the young Spaniard will recover for this. When your legs go, your serve goes with it, and Bencic is a very aggressive returner with a lot more power than Sevastova, who generally uses her skill and craft to score. “If if if” does not exist, but if Badosa is fresh she can win, and if she is sporting any lingering fatigue, Bencic will have an easy time closing out here. Bencic in 3.

Sabalenka vs Mertens :

Mertens beating Halep should not have been enjoyable, but it really was. She had ample opportunities to go away, and to fold under pressure, and she just kept coming. After some puzzling losses this year, it’s good to see her beating a top player. There is no reward though, as Sabalenka is through after smoking Jessica Pegula. I thought Pegula might compete well for a stretch, but nooooooo. Sabalenka is bringing a level of offense that the tour is not used to. Her and Mertens have played some doubles together, and they’re very familiar with each others games. Not to oversimplify it, but Mertens needs to earn errors in order to get this match. Just defending isn’t good enough anymore against Sabalenka, and as she’s won their last few contests she should have a slight edge here in comfort. Beating Halep is great, but the tour has moved a bit beyond Halep. Sabalenka in 2.

Pavlyuchenkova vs Muchova :

Something fishy in the line I saw for this one. Muchova, after beating Osaka and Sakkari, is only -150 against Pavlyuchenkova. I’m not saying she’s an automatic win, but her level was very high against Sakkari and Pavs had a marathon with Brady who has only very recently (this tournament basically) been finding any form on clay. To me, these two players are very similar. Both have good serves, both hit very hard, both move the ball around without errors, and both seem to have an uncanny ability to get the ball hit back to them wherever they are in the court. It’s not luck, but a genuine great court sense about the flow of the game. Muchova is younger, and although she likely should have lost the third set to Sakkari, it’s the type of lengthy battle that she’ll need to reproduce against Pavlyuchenkova. I’m confused by the prices, but it’s hard to see Muchova’s defending and variety in the last round as something that’s going to disappear, and her aggressive returning in the right moments is something you can’t teach (but only because tennis coaches do not seem to teach because they are too busy wearing sunglasses and nodding at the tiny tyrants that yell at them after every point they lose). Muchova in 3.