TTI’s clay court travels continue — and we’re live this week from the Mutua Madrid Open. Qualifying action got underway on Friday, and it was also WTA All Access day for the Top 8 seeds. René Denfeld recaps what the players had to say and reactions to a rather late — but important — withdrawal.
With much of the press already assembled, the biggest news of the day at the Mutua Madrid Open came an hour before the women’s draw ceremony even took place: Serena Williams, hasn’t made the trip over to Europe just yet and cited the flu as the reason for her withdrawal; as result, the seeds were reshuffled at the last minute and the draw looks different than expected.
Agnieszka Radwanska is now the top seed at this year’s Madrid Open, with Angelique Kerber as the second seed. The Pole herself called being the top seed at the WTA’s only clay Premier Mandatory event a little “weird,” when considering her results on the surface and and where she’d rank clay on her list of favorite surfaces.
“Erm…No. 3?!” Radwanska laughed, before hastily adding, “– still good though!”
Radwanska has the unenviable task of playing Dominika Cibulkova in her first round — someone she’s had multiple very tight battles with over the past few years. Kerber has also had her struggles with clay occasionally, with the French Open being the only Grand Slam where she hasn’t made it to the semifinals yet, but after winning in Charleston and Stuttgart last year as well as defending her title at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, the World No. 3 has more than found her footing on the slippery surface.
After a whirlwind week in Germany, the 28-year-old decided to kick back and relax.
“I went home for a few days…just trying to enjoy the days — normal days and Wednesday I arrived already here,” Kerber said about her “time off,” but is already used to the conditions in Madrid.
“Of course it’s different, first of all we are playing outside and the clay is a little bit different than in Stuttgart. Like after the first few sessions in Stuttgart, I get used to it. […] Here, I think it’s a little bit more clay on the court but it’s clay courts. [You never] know because sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less but for sure it’s a little bit more than in Stuttgart.”
For Victoria Azarenka, who’s the No. 4 seed here in Madrid, this year’s preparation on clay was a new process and the tournament in the Spanish capital will be the Belarusian’s first proper tournament since she won the “Sunshine Double” in Indian Wells and Miami — although she had a hand in making history for Belarus in Fed Cup.
“It was really like my first real preparation on clay with my new team,” she said. “There were a few things and tips that I learned with the movement — that was insightful and it was [some] time [away], but I also played Fed Cup, so it was in the middle of it.
“I felt that I’ve done pretty good work and now it’s time to play.”
A lot of the day’s focus was on the two home favorites, Carla Suarez Navarro and Garbiñe Muguruza, who are both Top 8 seeds at their home tournament — and with that comes a certain amount of pressure.
“No, it’s not easy because you have all the people and all the people are speaking to you, ‘You can play good here,’” Suarez Navarro said just a few days ago in Stuttgart, looking ahead to the Madrid Open. “I feel really motivated about Madrid because it’s the only tournament I can play in Spain and the crowd is with me all the time. I have experience from last year and the year before. I like to play there. I know it’s not easy sometimes because you play with your friends, with your family, all the people there — but it’s one of my favorite tournaments because it’s in Spain. We play at home.”
Muguruza shared the sentiment of her doubles partner in Stuttgart, saying she loves playing in Madrid but it also gives her a certain sense of anxiety.
“I’m just trying to be calm you know — I obviously want to do great, I just don’t want to panic…Madrid is always a hard tournament because all the Spanish people, we want to do it so good now that I’m like, ‘I can’t play here,'” she said last week. “Hopefully this time, I’m more calm and it gets better because I love to play there and there are people who support you!”
Beyond All Access Hour with the media, qualifying also got underway on the outside courts and while most of the seeds made it through to the second round, there were also some casualties along the way — most notably, German No 4 seed Julia Goerges went out to Maria Sakkari.
Both sets were hard-fought but the German’s shot selection let her down –particularly on the big points towards the end of the first set. Nowhere was this more apparent than on the final point of the tiebreak in the opener, as a forehand drive volley off Goerges’ racket sailed long. Overall. Sakkari’s grit provided to be too much for an error-strewn Goerges, and she advanced to the second round, 7-6(4), 7-5.
Also advancing in qualifying were Stuttgart darling Laura Siegemund, Naomi Osaka, and Monica Puig — who lost a quarterfinal match to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Prague less than 24 hours earlier. The only match to be held on the Manolo Santana center court today was Elena Vesnina’s first round win over Silvia Soler Espinosa, as the Russian was ruthless in dispatching the wildcard, 6-0, 6-3.
Main draw action on the women’s side gets underway tomorrow whereas qualifying will begin for the men, resulting in a total of 32 matches — and if that wasn’t enough, the full men’s draw will also be released.