The Madrid Open gets underway this week, with 39 of the world’s top 40 women’s players in action.
Two-time champion Serena Williams is the only notable absentee for this year’s draw as she continues to recover from oral surgery.
There’s a return, however, for Britain’s Johanna Konta, who missed the Billie Jean King Cup play-offs recently with a knee injury but is back for the clay-court season.
The event comes ahead of next month’s French Open and represents an opportunity for a number of players to find form and confidence ahead of tennis’ second Grand Slam of the year.
Here are five of the favourites leading into this week:
World number one Ashleigh Barty won her third title of the season at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart last week, solidifying her position at the top of the rankings.
The Australian had a tough start to 2021, losing to Karoline Muchova in her home Grand Slam and falling to a first-round defeat at the Adelaide Invitational, but has seemingly rediscovered her form of old and is playing with more freedom.
Barty has also emerged victorious in her last 10 matches against top-10 opposition, showing that she has taken her tennis to a new level.
Four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka looked destined to displace Barty as world number one earlier this month but suffered a shock quarter final defeat to Maria Sakkari in the Miami Open.
This ended a 23-match winning run for the Japanese star, who hadn’t lost since February 2020 prior to the contest.
Osaka hasn’t featured since but will be keen to put together another run of form ahead of the French Open. The 23-year-old has struggled on clay so far in her career though and is yet to win a title on the surface so far.
Though she is ranked below Osaka and Barty, Halep is by far the most comfortable on clay courts and has reached 18 finals on the surface, winning nine titles.
Four of these finals have been in Madrid, including back-to-back wins in 2016 and 2017. The Romanian will therefore be confident of winning for a third time this time around.
However, the two-time major winner did suffer defeat to Aryna Sabalenka last week in the semi finals at Stuttgart and is still yet to win a tournament this year.
Kvitová is the most successful player in the history of the Madrid Open, having won the tournament three times, most recently in 2018.
In this way, it’s impossible to look past the Czech star as a contender, despite her falling out of the top 10 of the world rankings.
Interestingly, three of Kvitová’s five wins came at this tournament, and the former world number two has never progressed further than the fourth round of the French Open in year’s she’s won in the Spanish capital.
Kudermetova isn’t even seeded at this year’s event, but recently won her maiden WTA title at the Charleston Open, where she defeated Danka Kovinić.
In that competition, the Russian failed to drop a set and didn’t concede more than eight games in a match all week.
It’s clear that clay is her favoured surface and at 24-years-old, it seems the world number 28 is beginning to enter her prime, so could certainly spring a surprise or two in Madrid.News Now - Sport News