May 03, 2021

2021 Madrid Open WTA Round 3 Writeup 🐢

WTA round three writeup is below. I’ve included the men’s 1st round matches at the bottom also for the qualifiers who got their assignments today. Tons of good tennis on the board for tomorrow and if you missed today’s matches, Marton Fucsovics hit a trickshot that I had to replay 4 times to figure out.

Barty vs Swiatek :

The finals isn’t usually in the third round. Barty had a rough time with Zidansek, but the sets she’s won this week have been a very high level. Swiatek had a similar difficult but winnable match with Siegemund, who didn’t seem like she’d turn the tide but dug in very hard and extended rallies and broke serve a few times. The problem with Swiatek is that she doesn’t really go away anymore when she loses a game. It’s a constant pattern of probing forehands and clever dropshots. Even if you win a few net exchanges, which Barty certainly will, you constantly have to cover the dropshot because Swiatek’s aggression doesn’t pause. The problem I see for Iga is that Barty’s defense is a huge step up from her previous opponents, and her offense is the same. This is as exciting a third round as you will see, with both players playing an extremely exciting level and very little clear to separate them. The winner should be in very good form for the rest of the event, so this is both an unfortunate draw and a beneficial one. Barty’s been on a tear, but I think it’ll be tough to beat Swiatek if she doesn’t make too many unforced errors. This match will be so good I don’t even want to cheer for an outcome, but if you make me pick I lean Swiatek in 3.

Kvitova vs Kudermetova :

Kerber played better than I expected, but Kvitova beat her anyway. That the kind of offense that Petra brings even on a slower claycourt. Her backhand seems like the obvious target, but she hits a mean crosscourt shot that only really loses its range for a game or two each match. That is the issue for Kvitova though; she makes errors in bunches at times, so an opponent who can move the ball around well can benefit greatly. Kudermetova is one such player, and although she was down early breaks against Bertens, she was pretty comprehensive in the win. Kudermetova might have more claycourt wins than anyone on tour outside the top 10 right now, and while her lack of serving may make this an uphill battle, it’s one she’s capable of winning. Kerber getting some early edges wasn’t a great sign, and I expect Kudermetova to have her chances at the win. Conversely, Kvitova’s offense is such that Kudermetova will have to work very hard to defend her serve. The good news and bad news is the same, this match is on Kvitova’s racquet. I’m oddly leaning into the upset here. Kudermetova in 3.

Badosa vs Sevastova :

Sevastova has been extremely sharp in this tournament. Coming through qualifying and rolling through her first two matches, it’s easy to look at her as the favorite in this contest. That might not be the case though. Badosa and Teichmann played a scary good quality match. Teichmann is really starting to find good range on her forehand, and the inside in shot was firing well. Badosa did not take a single point off in this contest though, and in the end she was able to counterpunch well enough to get through. Her level was high, and the pressure she exerted on Teichmann’s movement paid dividends in the mental battle. There may be a risk of her being a bit flat in this round after such an emotional match, but if she’s at the same level she can win this. Sevastova hits crisp angles and is very skillful, but Badosa is quick enough to make this into more of a baseline war. Neither are exactly rock-solid on serve, but Badosa’s serve has a bit more power to it. This should be very swingy and very good. Badosa in 3.

Jabeur vs Bencic :

This is another gem that probably won’t get enough views. Bencic complained her way to victory against Pera. Pera hit shot after shot that clipped the line, and while some were amazing, Bencic mostly just seemed frustrated that her opponent’s level was higher than she expected. That was the story of the week for Pera; she’s really improving this year and her forehand down the line was very solid. Bencic got through by isolating the backhand and just playing relentless yet secure offense. Her hitting was a little better, and it’ll need to be in this next round also. Jabeur had a tough test against Stephens, and in the end her offense was legit enough to win. Stephens really doesn’t go for winners much, but the result is that it takes a ton of great shots each rally just to win. Her slumps are the result of disinterest at smaller events, so it’s good for fans that the next few events are worth a ton of points. The problem with turning it up is often that you aren’t able to produce exactly when you want to, and that bit her at times against Ons. Bencic is likely to wind up in a third set here. She isn’t the best defender, but she hugs the baseline well and keeps the ball moving. Jabeur is the better player, but tends to play a bit impatient at times and that will cost her against Bencic. Slight step up in comp for Bencic, and given her frustrations against Pera, you have to give a slight nod to Jabeur until Bencic proves it. Jabeur in 3.

Sabalenka vs Pegula :

Kasatkina is probably as sick of Sabalenka as Fucsovics is of Rublev. Sabalenka was hitting so hard today that her backhand regularly slid. While errors held her back from a complete blowout, she had Kasatkina on the run and playing pure “just make it back” defense for a lot of this. Nobody had an easier day than Jessica Pegula though, who got a walkover against Azarenka. This should be a better match than Kasatkina Sabalenka, simply because Pegula has a great deal more power. Big hitters make more errors when you take their time away, and I expect some shanked balls here from Sabalenka. There’s always that one match in the tournament where everyone is extremely sure of what’s going to happen and then once the upset happens you wind up sitting there thinking “oh right, this other person is good at tennis”. Pegula is very good at tennis. She was playing even with Cirstea, who won the title last week, has played one less round so her speed will be at its best, and she’ll be competitive in this. I can’t bring myself to type it in though, because when Sabalenka is connecting this week she looks simply unplayable. Sabalenka in 3.

Mertens vs Halep :

There were some tense moments against Rybakina for Mertens, but she seemed to be able to win big points when she needed to. This sets up a fun match with Halep, who struggled late against Zheng but looked very good. She seemed to hit the ball back at Zheng when she had simple shots to put away, and while she dished out a donut in the first set, it’s the second match in a row that she kinda struggled to close out while in control. This might be a longer match duration wise than scorewise, as Halep has been very stingy in return games, pretty much breaking at will. Mertens is very similar to Halep in her ability to ability to compete from the baseline, but Halep is having a better season. The lapse Halep has had in her past two matches is concerning, but Mertens is so good that Halep won’t lose focus in the same way. Halep in 2.

Pavlyuchenkova vs Brady :

Good win for Pavlyuchenkova. She covered the court well and kept Pliskova moving. That’s the formula and she displayed it marvelously. Brady played well also, but didn’t have a lot to do with her result. Brady returned a 2nd and 3rd ball in each rally and that was enough. Ostapenko played at one speed and missed over and over. Issues with her first serve popped up also, and it must have felt like an endless match for her since she faced break points in almost every service game. Brady vs Pavlyuchenkova is a very interesting match because Brady’s clay performances haven’t been next-tier all the time, and Pavs is playing very well from the baseline. Brady seemed very consistent against Ostapenko though, and she hit her forehand fairly quick which is useful against a big hitter like Pavs. It’s a matter of outlasting for Brady, who can win this if she digs in the same way she did against Ostapenko. The problem is, Pavs won’t go after offense that she isn’t capable of so Brady will have to supply some shotmaking of her own to get across the finish line. I expect a third set here, but I think Brady will be played into form by that point. Brady in 3.

Sakkari vs Muchova :

Sakkari probably will win one of the next 4 majors. There are a ton of top ranked players playing well but very few whose peak level is improving still. Sakkari’s forehand made great strides, and now she’s starting to hit her backhand for clean winners as well. I am admittedly a big Muchova fan, but Sakkari is going to be a big ask. Muchova has an uncanny way of making her opponent hit the ball back to her rather than to the open court. Her court positioning/movement are pretty unique on defense, and she plays such a steady game that the variety in it is almost surprising. Her patience in rallies makes it difficult to defend when she changes the pace, and her ability to create high bounces on clay and execute the dropshot are pretty high level. At just 24, the future is super bright, yet I think this will be very hard to win. Osaka is a great player, but she looks to create offense a lot and can often give away points that her opponent might not have won otherwise. Sakkari is more measured (this week at least) and will make Muchova play a lot of long rallies. Muchova struggled with fatigue a bit in the AO run, and this match on clay after the lenthy one she had with Osaka will be tough. That view feels a bit speculative actually, because a top player is going to address those kind of issues and this is not the second week of a major. There are really some amazing matches in this tournament, and I expect this one to be high level. I don’t think either player can really hit through the other, so I’ll take the better athlete in Sakkari. Sakkari in 3.

Struff vs Popyrin :

Jan Lennard Struff played very inspired tennis this past week. He crushes his forehand, defended well, and although it isn’t his most consistent swing he stayed aggressive on his backhand. Getting to net behind good serving was good for a lot of cheap points, and so the only question mark for him in this early round is how his fitness is. He acquitted himself well against Basilashvili, but turning around after a long event is always tough. Popyrin played well in qualifying and is gradually learning that he hits the ball bigger than most of the tour. He can get a bit passive in rallies at times, and for a while his inconsistency on offense cost him a lot of matches, but he’s gradually finding his range and the results is a ton of good victories. Clay shouldn’t be his best surface, but his serve and forehand are good enough to make him a solid top 50 talent on the dirt. This seems like a potentially close match. Popyrin is familiar with the surface having come through qualifying, and Struff is flying and just played 5 matches. Struff is a player who tends to maintain a good level for a few events in a row, so even if he is spent here, he is rounding into form at the perfect time. The power and serving that he carries are good enough to get him to the end of sets here, and he’ll be feeling pretty confident. I think he’ll succumb to fatigue at some point this week, but he should have enough juice left to beat Popyrin. Struff in 3.

Andujar vs Giron :

Giron got a nice bonus with Nishioka retiring from their match. The reward of avoiding that extended grind is shortlived, as he’s run into one of the most solid baseliners the clay specialists have to offer. Travaglia had some trouble against Gimeño Traver in his opener, but found really good form on serve. He dealt out a lot of love holds, and continued that against Andujar in the final round of qualifying. The trouble with beating Andujar without a significant amount of power is that he doesn’t just keep the ball going, he moves the ball aggressively and doesn’t really have recognizable patterns. Giron’s speed will be useful, and he’s capable of scoring on his serve, but I’m inclined to think that Andujar is the favorite here. Giron will either need to outlast Andujar, which isn’t likely, or serve the lights out, which is very difficult to do on clay. Andujar in 2.

Bautista-Agut vs Cecchinato :

Cecchinato is starting to win matches on tour again and it’s a long time coming. He’s played maybe 3-4 good events in 3 seasons, to the point that many suspicious gamblers have accused him of matchfixing. It’s less a voluntary loss and more the high-profile game he tries to play that causes him to lose, and when you’re looking to play a very power-heavy but skilled game, the margins are thin. He’s prone to putting simple rally balls into the net, or playing so well that it looks like he’ll threaten anyone on tour. Since clay is really the only surface he does well on, these events are important, so this is a pretty bad draw. RBA sometimes plays poorly on clay because he hits such a flat ball, but he’s a good enough defender to extend rallies with Cecchinato, and that can spell errors. Cecchinato may start quick after coming through qualifying, but I think RBA will get across the finish line, as the type of performance it’ll take from Cecchinatoto get through here is the type that’ll have him going deep in this event. RBA in 2-3.

Delbonis vs Carreño-Busta :

Delbonis won a straightforward match to get through qualifying, winning 6-4, 6-4 against Londero. This is a big step up, and Cecchinato and Delbonis have had some rough luck here with the draws. Delbonis hasn’t won any of him and PCB’s recent matches, and while he’s notched some wins in the clay swing, he hasn’t shown the ability to beat the next tier of player. Pablo will have a lot of work to do to keep Delbonis from playing offense, but he’s been very capable the past few weeks, and he’s fresh, playing at home, and coming off a good run in Barcelona. PCB in 2.

Herbert vs Fokina :

Strange end to Fokina’s run last week, as he really forced the issue too much against ARV after playing a few near perfect matches. Fatigue is a question mark next to his name here, as he’s been very injury prone in his few seasons on tour and seemed to hit a wall against ARV. Herbert is very sharp and plays a very interesting game, serving and volleying but also focusing on not creating angles for his opponent when he plays on clay. His offense started to click in a loss to ARV last week, and it’s carried over this week in two solid performances in qualifying. Beating ADF will be his best win on clay this season, so it’s not a done-deal, but I expect him to win a set if Fokina is a bit tired from his semifinals run. Fokina in 3.