Apr 29, 2021

2021 Madrid Open WTA Round 1 Writeup 🐢

It’s time for the Madrid Open Tennis Tournament. If you’re unfamiliar with tennis, it’s a game where you thwack the ball back and forth and, if you’re a pro, make varying amounts of noise on your opponent’s shot. If you’re unfamiliar with Madrid, it is a beautiful city in Spain, which is a country in Europe, which is a continent on Earth which is a planet somewhere near some moons. If you still want to know more, sorry that is all I know. Madrid has elected to start the women’s draw early. If you’re wondering why, me too. I’m still excited for a great event though, so here’s the writeup. As usual, DegensClub is running their picking competitions for the Madrid Open, so feel free to join or hangout with us in the chat.

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Barty vs Rogers :

This is a tough draw for anyone to get in round 1. Ash Barty has had some hiccoughs in easy matches this year, failing to close out a few second sets with the lead, but her most recent play on the indoor clay in Stuttgart was extemely solid, and outlasting Sabalenka in the final means she comes into this one on a win streak which is always a confidence boost. Shelby Rogers is pretty consistent, and hits the ball very big. Picture a more consistent but less powerful version of Madison Keys. The result is Shelby wins fewer titles but wins more early rounds. Her problem here is that her game is very linear and is often played at one speed. Barty’s play was boosted a bit by the pristene indoor conditions in Stuttgart, but as the first seed in the event and coming off a title win you have to give her a pretty large edge. Rogers will be able to capitalize on errors and win rallies if she gains control, but Barty’s slice keeps the ball very low and it’ll be tough for Shelby to manufacture quick points against Barty’s defending. Ash also has served great in stretches recently, and aces on the women’s tour are a huge boost. Barty in 2.

Hsieh vs Zidansek :

The question here is when Hsieh knew she had a lucky loser spot locked up. For those unfamiliar, a certain numbers of players are entered automatically in the draw via their ranking. The rest go into qualifying. If there is a withdrawal from the main draw, the higher ranked qualifiers who have lost get that spot. This matters because Zidansek just played Hsieh in the finals of the qualifying and Hsieh lost 6-1, 6-0. The good news for Tamara Zidansek fans is that all of her best results on tour have come on clay. It’s where she feels most comfortable, and although she struggles with injury and consistency, her variety and accuracy mean that she can deal with Hsieh’s particularly confusing offerings. Hsieh has a two handed forehand and plays a ton of dropshots and tough spins. Her serve is a liability, but her counterpunching is good enough that she usually gets by. It’s too much speculation to be sure that she dumped the match in qualifying, and Zidansek is likely good enough to win anyway. Zidansek in 2.

Kozlova vs Siegemund :

This is a good draw for both players. Kozlova is playing under a protected ranking to get into the qualifiers, but she made great use of it beating Kanepi (this is a bit nuts actually) and Diyas in straight sets. Siegemund did well to come back from down a set against Sasnovich, who plays a top tier level of tennis at times but usually not for 2 sets in a row. Interesting to note here that Siegemund has won all their previous meetings on clay. With Kozlova’s resurgence and level, I suspect this will be pretty close. The problem is that Siegemund closed out her match against Sasnovich in very good form, and she is a rhythm player. A game that’s a bit similar to Shelby Rogers but with less power means she’s had to develop a lot of accuracy and consistency, and she fights for every point which results in a lot of breaks of serve. In the end, I think she’ll continue her slight edge against Kozlova. Siegemund in 3.

Riske vs Swiatek :

Alison Riske hasn’t made much noise on clay, and although she has some good power, her problem is always unforced errors. Her forehand is a bit manufactured and can lose length. On the other side of the net is Iga Swiatek, who is one of the most exciting prospects to join the WTA. Her serving continues to improve, and her offense is not exactly traditional which is amazing to watch. The forehand whips above her head at times like Nadal, and she creates short angles on her backhand and plays some very creative two-handed dropshots. Clay has often given younger players their first big wins (gives them more time to react and generally the step up to tour level means the ball comes a lot quicker), and it is no different for Iga, who only loses the buzz of being an up-and-comer by virtue of already being one of the best players in the game. The WTA has made huge strides in the past 2 seasons and Iga is a big part of that. Swiatek in 2.

Kvitova vs Bouzkova :

Petra played great in Stuttgart, and managed to win a match she probably shouldn’t have (Sakkari) and lose a match she probably shouldn’t have (Svitolina). Up 5-2 in the second and having won the first, Kvitova seemed like she’d roll through and started to look like a favorite to win the title. When she dropped the set, there was a pretty clear indication that she’d be a bit mentally fatigued for the 3rd set and that proved to be the case. Despite this lapse, she comes into this event playing at a very high level. I don’t expect her serving to be as good, since serving is greatly boosted by playing indoors, but her power and offense are good enough to get her through if she can keep this a 2 set match. Bouzkova hasn’t had the kind of start to a clay season that would indicate she’s going to win this match either, having lost to Tomljanovic, and Voundrousova in fairly routine performances. She’s a very consistent baseliner, and playing her compatriot means she’ll be fairly comfortable (she did win their previous match on hardcourt), but Kvitova should have an edge here. Kvitova in 2.

Kerber vs Voundrousova :

Sometimes there are players that are very hard to get a read on. Angelique Kerber has become that for me recently. A past champion who is capable of great levels, her motivation hasn’t looked evident, and she’s followed up mercurial performances by losing to significantly worse players in the next round. Luckily, I also have difficult predicting Marketa Voundrousova matches. She looks exhausting to play when she’s playing well, but often plays injured and since she doesn’t have a great deal of power, it takes her a lot of work to win rallies. The lefty vs lefty matchup is often defined by who is able to implement their offense. Kerber is more likely to force hers, and while her forehand is a hammer, she’s been missing it lately. Voundrousova’s middling results are still better than Kerber’s, and it should be a good contest but she has a slight edge. A good way to think about it is : Kerber could win, but there’s no legitimate way to predict that given their results thus far this year, which is reflected in the -235 pricetag for Voundrousova (a price that is a bit high to lay considering Kerber’s potential). Voundrousova in 2.

Kudermetova vs Vesnina :

Vesnina’s return to the tour comes via a protected ranking (players who get injured and are off tour for a while can enter a certain number of events when they heal with a frozen version of their previous ranking; this is intended to allow veteran players a chance to get back on tour without having to grind their way through the challengers and in some ways is a nice retirement bonus for players whose injury does spell their exit from the tour). Vesnina likely wouldn’t have won this match before she stepped away from the tour, so it’s unlikely she’ll win it now given Kudermetova’s solid level in Istanbul. Kudermetova in 2.

Jimenez Kasintseva vs Bertens :

Bertens opened at -2000 here which made me google Jimenez Kasintseva. Despite being a top tier player for several seasons, the Kiki Bertens of 2020 and 2021 is not a -2000 favorite against anyone. These odds were pulled quickly and reopened at -1600. Still foolish, but books have to price markets (not outcomes), and Jimenez is a junior champion, but is still a relatively unknown 15 year old player. Bertens did defeat Wang recently, and her return to the tour does have to produce some results eventually. This is a good place to start, but there is a good chance that this will feature some bright spots for the talented junior. Bertens in 2.

Svitolina vs Teichmann :

Teichmann pulled out of Miami in the first set with a physical issue, and has played zero tennis since then. The first match on clay is always tough no matter how much practice you get, and Svitolina found a really good level in Stuttgart. Her defense is always great, but she managed to serve as well as she has in recent history, so this match is hers to lose. Svitolina in 2.

Badosa vs Krejcikova :

I am a big fan of Krejcikova’s game, as she utilizes length and power and tends to get into grooves where she doesn’t miss a shot. The clay season has started poorly for her though, and the plethora of funky bounces seems to have made her fairly erratic. A likely candidate to take advantage of that is Paula Badosa Gibert. She hasn’t made many deep runs this year, but she is very stingy from the baseline and has taken advantage of every opponent whose form was questionable. Still a tough ask since Badosa doesn’t exactly score quick points, but she may have a better mental standing for this one. Badosa in 3.

Bogdan vs Sevastova :

Bogdan was a pretty heavy favorite against Hibino in the final round of the qualifying, but it took a loooooong time to happen. Hibino puts extra balls in play, and she and Bogdan exchanged a number of breaks and break points late in the 3rd. It’s great to see Bogdan return to the tour and rack up wins, and the stress relief of getting through qualifying should see her play a bit freer in this opener. She’ll need a raised level also, because Sevastova managed to turn around a set and break deficit against Pironkova after an extended rain delay, and backed that up by upsetting Marta Kostyuk in straight sets (6-1 in the first). That level and the struggles Bogdan had to close out against Hibino should give Sevastova a small edge. I’m aware there are a number of “small edges” being discussed, but claycourt tennis is not generally a surface that lends itself to easy victories.

Bogdan has two wins against Sevastova, and although they aren’t recent, that and the bookmakers prices (-170 for sevastova) almost give a lean to this being a close match. When you look at prices for matches, it’s important to consider which name is the larger market. Sevastova is ranked 50 places higher, and has a number of high profile wins. By comparison, Bogdan is a bit less known and was off the tour for a little while. This means this price, despite being somewhat accurate to their levels coming in, is somewhat of a nod to Bogdan being competitive here. I sort of agree, but it’s hard to overlook Sevastova’s play thus far. Sevastova in 3.

Putintseva vs Konta :

Konta hasn’t played since Miami, and was recovering from a big of rust in the past few events. Putintseva isn’t having the best clay season, but she’s been a lot more active. It’s offense vs defense here as Putintseva is one of the better defensive baseliners on tour, and Konta’s game is largely dictated by whether her serve can get her easy forehands. On clay, that’ll be tough, and the cool weather will make offense a bit tough. Putintseva in 2.

Muguruza vs Stephens :

Muguruza has taken this season very seriously, and has pretty much grabbed every victory that was available. Playing at home in Spain on clay which is always her best surface is a perfect situation. Sloane Stephens has finally won a few matches in the past few weeks, but it has been a long and difficult road for the past US Open champ. Darian King is now coaching her, and while change is always good during a slump, he played a similar lackadaisical style in challenger events at times, even drawing accusations of match-fixing from frustrated punters. Sloane has the speed and power to make this close, but not the motivation or focus. Muguruza in 2.

Shvedova vs Jabeur :

Yaroslava is back playing under a protected ranking, but this is a tough first round. Jabeur can struggle with inconsistency, but her offense is a cut above what Shvedova was able to generate in the past. Jabeur in 2.

Martic vs Pera :

This is a good one. Martic is a great all-around player, but has been outworked in a lot of matches this year. She plays a skillful game and covers the court easily, but is prone to 3-setters and this makes consistent results on tour very tough when you’ve had success in major events in the past. Pera is a similar offensive talent but had mostly notched huge upsets and disappointing defeats when she was slated to win for quite some time. Her play in the qualifying was excellent though, and beating Hercog and Bolsova means she’s likely to find herself in a third set with Martic as well. Martic certainly has a big enough forehand to expose Pera’s slightly suspect backhand, but being lefty is a huge boost on tour and Pera should start off well here since she’s familiar with the courts already. Qualifying is tough, but it does tend to bring you into the first round playing a bit better than players who haven’t been playing a lot of matches. Pera in 3.

Mladenovic vs Bencic :

Mladenovic upended Potapova in the final round of the qualifying, and it was a good turnaround after she almost lost to local talent Mintegi Del Olmo in round one (she was down a break in the third set). In a similar fashion to the match above, the upset is possible here. Mladenovic struggles with double faults and can get a bit rattled on the court, but her game is skilled enough to compete with anyone when she’s on. Clay is a comfortable surface for a player whose movement is often her worst liability, and the French players always have a good background. Bencic has more power and is having a better 2021, but this has mostly been a hardcourt trend, so this is a sort of “prove it” spot despite Mladenovic almost having not been in this tournament. I’ll end up eating this, but Mladenovic in three.

Sabalenka vs Zvonareva :

This isn’t fair. Zvonareva absolutely demolished Schmiedlova in the final round of qualfying, and beating Rus in straights was impressive as well. Despite being a bit wild at times, Sabalenka is as bad a first round as you can get, and Zvonareva’s solid play might not be enough. Zvonareva can locate her serve well at times, and her groundstrokes off the backhand can be very piercing. These will be necessary, but Sabalenkais likely gets the nod anyway. Sabalenka in 2.

Begu vs Kasatkina :

Begu was one of the best players in qualifying, slowing down Kalinskaya who is a very consistent player having her best season ever, and dispatching Voegele in straights. The big serving Romanian has huge power, and her only real issue is errors come in bunches at times. I am inclined to think she has a shot against Kasatkina here, but Kasatakina has won all of their previous claycourt encounters and that was when her game was a little less adept. The result should be a very close contest, with Kasatkina’s defense and consistency pitted against Begu’s serving and power. While I expect Kasatkina has formulaic ways to score points against a player she’s defeated 3 times, her serve is a bit of a liability at times and Begu will likely break her here and there. I want badly to back Begu here, and I think I will. Begu in 3.

Pegula vs Cirstea :

Pegula hasn’t played since Miami, so the clay opener makes her a question mark here. Sorana Cirstea picked up a title last week in Istanbul, and played great during that run. She served well, and swung for the fences with her forehand. Her composure was next level, and there was never a time where her commitment to offensive tennis lapsed. Bookmakers have priced this as an event contest, and I am almost surprised Cirstea is not a favorite. She’s likely to bring the same solid level, and the only reason she’s not an overwhelming favorite is that Pegula’s power and serving give her a a chance against just about anyone. Cirstea does well against big hitters, and will like her chances going in to pull off the upset. I somewhat agree, but it is a big step up in stage and opponent (except Mertens who she beat in a very surprising final). Cirsea in 3.

Alexandrova vs Azarenka :

Alexandrova’s power against Azarenka’s defense should be an entertaining contest. Azarenka was the hero of 2020, but things have sort of slowed down. She still is playing at a high level, and given Halep’s quick defeat of Alexandrova, Azarenka’s defending and ball movement is likely to be a similarly difficult test. Clay slows the ball down, and Alexandrova’s movement is a disadvantage she generally outperforms with her power. Still, Azarenka hasn’t played since Miami, so this may go the distance. Azarenka in 3.

Mertens vs Zhang :

A disappointing and somewhat surprising finals loss for Mertens in Istanbul, but another good run by a player who rivals 2019 Kiki Bertens for consistently going deep in every event. Zhang won their most recent meeting on hardcourt, but she’s likely to lose this one unless Mertens’ trouble in the finals was some less-than-mentioned injury. Mertens in 2.

Tomljanovic vs Rybakina :

This is one where the books are taking a position I probably wouldn’t. Rybakina has a great level when she’s on, but she’s had some middling results this year. She’s ranked 50 spots higher than Tomljanovic, and just defeated Podoroska in an exhibition, which is a great win on clay. Yet the books still make this match a pickem. The question of who is a larger market is pretty clear, and I am led to believe that Tomljanovic’s straight set wins in the qualifying are not something that will disappear overnight. Ajla has been a promising talent on tour for a while, and while the results have not come she does tend to play to the level of her opponent. The upset doesn’t feel likely at all to me if Rybakina plays to her ability, but I’m willing to admit that a strong qualifier has a good chance for a quick start. Someone in 3, and to be fair, I follow the tour a good bit but there are behind the scenes issues such as relationships/private issues/financial woes/injuries/genuine malaise or burnout that can be baked into these prices. You can log and watch every moment of the tour and still not have as much information as they are working with.

Linette vs Zheng :

Magda Linette wins first sets. If you look at her results, she really plays her best tennis at the start of matches. As a server, this makes sense. Errors tend to come with fatigue and players tend to recognize patterns after losing an early set, which is why professional tennis is so difficult to play offense in. Saisai Zheng is a very good defender, and this could really go either way. Linette has a great serve, and Zheng can struggle with errors since her forehand tends to drag the ball a bit. On the flipside, Zheng’s speed around the court can make her very difficult late in a match, so it really matters whether this is over in 2 or three. Linette in 2 or Zheng in 3.

Sorribes Tormo vs Halep :

NOT FAIR. Sara Sorribes Tormo put on some unreal performances earlier this year, playing error-free tennis and overwhelmingly exhausting everyone she played. I was excited for her to get some good draws in the major events, but it appears this will have to wait. Despite Halep being a worldbeater, I dont think anyone dispatches Tormo easily at this point. Halep’s struggles tend to come against players with a great deal of power, so Tormo will struggle to win points easily, but the points will be long and Halep can struggle with confidence when errors creep into her game. The edge has to sit with Halep still as Tormo mostly beat lower-tier opponents in her runs, but it may take a long time. Halep in 3.

Pliskova vs Gauff :

This line opened as a pickem (even odds). I somewhat agreed, but money has flowed in on Pliskova since then. At best, Pliskova is a solid 3rd or 4th round performer in clay events. At worst, errors creep in and she adopts the despondent expression that has seen her lose so many early round matches. Gauff is a likely suspect to put enough balls back in play to make this close, and had Pliskova not outlasted Ostapenko and taken a set off Barty a week ago there wouldn’t be many bright points to make her the favorite here. Gauff isn’t exactly a simple victory either, as her play can become a bit passive at times and the fantastic results that everyone expects have not exactly come. Still, she won a few matches last week, and in a first round with many offense vs defense matchups, this is probably the highest tier one. Hard to figure out what will happen exactly, but this is likely one of the most exciting first round matches. Gauff in 3.

Pavlyuchenkova vs Keys :

Madison Keys hasn’t played much tennis this year, and a quick loss to Sloane Stephens is her only result on clay. This makes a somewhat mediocre Pavlyuchenkova a moderate option when thinking about who’ll win here. Pavs best days on tour seem to have passed, but she still is very consistent and capable of winding up in a deciding set. The plot here is basically Keys errors. If she’s struggling with unforced errors, she probably can’t win this. If she keeps the ball in the court, her power will eventually get her across the finish line. I feel it’s often more prudent in tennis to doubt the offensive talent, as once they prove it in an early round that level tends to carry through for a few more rounds, so I’m leaning towards the Russian here. Pavluchenkova in 2.

Kuznetsova vs Ostapenko :

This really is the same match as the one above. Kuznetsova is good enough to beat Ostapenko unless she brings her best level, and Ostapenko’s insistence on swinging for the fences is incredibly entertaining tennis, but makes her a prime candidate for opponents to focus on keeping the ball in play. The “I can outlast you” mindset is very very useful to play behind, and I think Ostapenko’s results often suffer as a result. Despite result troubles, Ostapenko isn’t the most talented athlete on tour, so nonstop offense is likely the route she has to continue to take on tour. It shouldn’t happen, but Kuznetsova in 3.

Williams vs Brady :

Venus Williams did not look tour-ready earlier this year, and I don’t think this will change much. Clay is a grind and Jenn Brady can get a bit wild but is a title contender anytime she steps on the court. I don’t expect Venus to win too many matches on tour anymore. There are simply too many great players and her mobility is not up to par. Brady in 2.

Sakkari vs Anisimova :

Maria Sakkari seems like she’s moving up to the very top tier of the tour. Her shoulders are unreal. I don’t know another way to say that. Her fitness is the best on tour by far, and her forehand is making great improvements this year. That weapon makes life easier on her and harder on opponents. She can get a bit passive since her mobility is so good, but she played a great match last week against Kvitova and should be able to win here. More offense vs defense is on the menu, as Anisimova swings for a winner on pretty much every shot. When she lands these shots she can take the racquet out of most players hands, but Sakkari has just reflected Kvitova’s offense and that is about as good as it gets on tour. Sakkari in 2-3.

Stojanovic vs Kontaveit :

Stojanovic is one of the most consistent performers so far in 2021. No wild wins, but good solid play in the early rounds has her rising up the rankings. Winning in straight sets against Konjuh is very impressive as well as she’s been playing, and despite going three sets against Paolini, Stojanovic seemed like she’d edge that match out throughout. Her returning is excellent, and the only real trouble with her game is that her serving tends to put her on the back foot at times. That will be the issue here against Kontaveit. The odds on this are something absurd like -550 for Kontaveit, but she played a great event last week in Stuttgart so there’s a good chance that she carries over this solid play. Stojanovic is working with more consistency, but fewer weapons. Kontaveit struggles in stretches, but she also plays well in stretches. I think she’ll have a good edge here with her ability to score cheap points with her serving and power. Kontaveit in 2 close sets.

Wang vs Muchova :

Neither of these two have had a lot of clay success to start the season, but both have played an event or two. Wang is likely a bit sharper, and Muchova has to have somewhat of a hangover from her amazing Australian Open run. Millions of dollars have a way of interrupting training, but Muchova’s natural talent will carry any minor lapses in work ethic, and Wang is more of a hardcourt specialist. I expect a slow start for Karolina. Muchova in 3.

Doi vs Osaka :

I’m quite sleepy, but Misaki Doi upsetting Kovinic in the final round of qualifying was a tremendous win for her given Kovinic’s amazing run the past month or so. Osaka and Doi tend to have close sets here and there, but Osaka will have a hard time losing this. Osaka in 2ish.