tournament preview

Many WTA Candidates In Line to Conquer the Blue Clay

While all the talk has been about the colour of the clay in Madrid ahead of this week’s combined Mutua Madrid Open, there is an important tournament to be played on the new surface and there is a long list of title contenders in the women’s draw.

The top half of the draw features World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka who overcame a tough first round hurdle this weekend with a straight sets win over Svetlana Kuznetsova. Despite a flawless start to her season, the Belarussian could use a strong showing at a major clay court event leading into Roland-Garros. Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams and Na Li are all in Azarenka’s quarter and her arch rival, new world no. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska is once again a potential semifinal opponent. Azarenka is the only player to beat the Pole so far in 2012. Radwanska’s section is already void of three seeds, Marion Bartoli, Dominika Cibulkova and a slumping Francesca Schiavone. Despite some of the favourites bowing out early, Radwanska could meet Sara Errani, the hottest clay court player in the world, in the second round. Errani has won 15 straight matches and three consecutive tournaments on the red dirt, including a title win last week in Budapest.

On paper, the bottom half of the Madrid women’s draw is definitely the tougher and deeper side. Leading the way is Stuttgart champion and world no. 2 Maria Sharapova. The rejuvanted Russian continues to make strides on clay and she rolled through her opening match. Fans are looking ahead to a potential blockbuster quarter-final  between Sharapova and Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, or even the emerging Mona Barthel. Sharapova and Williams have not played eachother since Stanford last summer and with many labeling them French Open favourites, both would likely relish the opportunity to go head-to-head before Paris. Defending Madrid champion Petra Kvitova and the clay savvy Samantha Stosur could also meet in the quarter-finals. Both could use a big showing on the blue clay courts. As she proved last year with her title run, the Madrid altitude and quicker surface are certainly favourable conditions for Kvitova’s big game.

In keeping with a prevalent WTA trend in 2012, expect the top four players to be still standing in the latter stages of the tournament, but not without being tested along the way. At the same time, upsets will not be uncommon given the uncertainties and concerns about the new clay surface. It will be interesting to see what kind of champion the blue courts will crown.