Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova and Klara Koukalova will meet in the opening round of the Madrid Open on Sunday afternoon, in what should be an entertaining contest. The two competitors are familiar with each others games, as they have previously entangled on six occasions on the WTA tour, with Sharapova leading the head-to-head series 5-1.
The start of the 2014 season was far from Sharapova’s best. She reached the semi-finals in Brisbane, the fourth round in Melbourne, and the semi-finals in Paris. She would then lose in the third round at Indian Wells and the semi-finals in Miami, which dropped her to world No. 9 in the rankings. It was only when the season shifted towards clay courts that Sharapova looked comfortable on court.
The Russian worked her way through the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix draw, and rallied from 6-3, 3-1 down to defeat Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic to in three sets in the Stuttgart final, which secured her third title (and Porsche) at that event. It was a fantastic performance from the former world No. 1, and made her the only female player to have won a title in each of the past nine seasons. It also secured her spot within the Top 10 in the WTA rankings. She faced a particularly tough first round match-up against Lucie Safarova, which lasted well over three hours, yet Sharapova’s shoulder held up throughout the entire match, which could mean that she is finally nearing a full recovery from her surgery last August. Her draw would also include wins over Radwanksa and Errani, which ultimately places Sharapova in a competitive position this week in Madrid, where she is the runner-up.
World No. 31 Klara Koukalova is coming off a first round exit to Sara Errani in Stuttgart. Apart from Fed Cup competition, it was her second clay court tournament of the season, as she had reached the final in Rio de Janeiro, before losing to Kurumi Nara.
Sharapova has not lost to Koukalova since the 2003 Australian Open first round, which is over a decade ago. Since then, the Russian holds five consecutive wins against Koukalova, including her most recent victory at the Sony Open last season. Sharapova leads the series 2-0 on clay, and has not dropped a set to Koukalova in over ten years. This will likely be another straight sets encounter, as it finally appears that Maria has found her form and is ready to make a deep run in Madrid.
Prediction: Maria Sharapova in Straight Sets