WTA Madrid Open 2013 Draw Preview and Analysis

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For the full draw, please click here: WTA Madrid 2013 Draw

The biggest clay court event of the year so far is already underway in Madrid, and the star-studded field rivals that of any Grand Slam tournament. All of the world’s top 16 players will be in action in the Spanish capital, aiming to win a title that will leave them €643,000 and 1000 ranking points better off.

Serena Williams has had an outstanding 12 months since she triumphed at the Magic Box arena last year: the Wimbledon, Olympics, US Open and end-of-year championship trophies were all hers, and she has begun the 2013 clay court season in similarly emphatic fashion by winning the title in Charleston. But the insatiable American is desperate to get her hands on a second French Open trophy next month, and will consider only a title run in Madrid to be adequate preparation.

In the first round, Serena will face a qualifier, never an easy prospect. Assuming the world number one makes it out of the gate, however, she will play either Simona Halep or the in-form Lourdes Dominhuez-Lino in her next match, followed, most probably, by Maria Kirilenko in the last 16. The Russian has shown signs of regaining her best form this season, but she has never beaten Serena in six meetings and will not be favoured to do so on slow clay courts.

The battle to be Serena’s quarter-final opponent will be a fierce one. Li Na is the sixth seed and is in good form on clay, having reached the final of the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart last week. But to reach the last eight in Madrid she will have to come through a section that features Venus Williams, Anabel Medina Garrigues, Mona Barthel, Yaroslava Shvedova and Caroline Wozniacki. Venus made the semi-finals in Charleston last month and has performed well in Madrid in the past, while Shvedova, who rose to prominence by reaching the last eight at Roland Garros in 2012, loves playing on clay. Wozniacki, on the other hand, is a player in dire need of a good result. She has won only one match on clay this year, and hasn’t produced an encouraging performance since her victory over Angelique Kerber in Indian Wells. Clay is not the Dane’s favourite surface because it deprives her of the pace she needs to counterpunch effectively. Even if Wozniacki avoids another early-round loss, she will have a hard time dealing with Li in the third round.

We haven’t seen Victoria Azarenka in action for a while. An ankle injury forced her out of Indian Wells and Miami, and she opted to miss the Premier event in Stuttgart. The world number three has said she is raring to go in Madrid, and she will certainly have to shake off any signs of rust pretty quickly, given that her first round opponent is Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. The world number 19 is steadily climbing the rankings following a title run in Monterey and a final appearance in Oeiras. Azarenka, a finalist in Madrid last year, has beaten Pavlyuchenkova in all three of their previous meetings, but the Russian has had success on clay in the past and will be buoyed by her recent form. A loss for Azarenka would be her first to a player other than Serena or Sharapova since last year’s French Open.

There are yet more intriguing first round match-ups elsewhere in the second quarter of the draw, such as Sara Errani v Urszula Radwanska, Roberta Vinci v Varvara Lepchenko and Marion Bartoli v Elena Vesnina. Errani and Vinci are two of the game’s best clay courters, and, interestingly, have decided not to enter the doubles draw together. Errani would be tipped to get the better of her good friend should they meet in the third round – she hasn’t lost to Vinci since 2010. Bartoli, alas, will be doing well to make it as far as the second hurdle. Still struggling with her coaching situation and confidence, the Frenchwoman has been spiralling of late and lost her only clay court match of the year so far in Oeiras.

The third quarter of the draw is headed by Agnieszka Radwanska. The fourth seed hasn’t been playing that much recently, perhaps mindful of burnout after a very busy start to 2013. Her draw is favourable for the first couple of rounds at least: she will take on grass court specialist Tsvetana Pironkova in her opening match, and will then face either Magdalena Rybarikova or Laura Robson in the second round. The most recent match Rybarikova played was a loss to Radwanska in Miami, while Robson has been struggling mightily since the Australian Open. One of two Serbs could then be waiting for Radwanska in the third round. Both Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have been playing well lately: Jankovic took a set off Serena in the Charleston final, and Ivanovic pushed Sharapova hard in Stuttgart. The potential second round clash between the formerly feuding rivals would be a must-see.

Seeded to meet Radwanska in the quarter-finals is Angelique Kerber. The German has enjoyed a solid if unspectacular season so far, but played well in Stuttgart before narrowly losing a tense three-setter to Sharapova. She has a relatively straightforward start to her Madrid campaign against Su-Wei Hsieh, yet will likely run into either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Nadia Petrova in the last 16, both tricky customers. Although Petrova’s and Kuznetsova’s days of consistent, world-beating tennis are behind them, they are still capable of upsetting higher ranked opponents, and each woman favours clay.

Many observers have concluded that the surface is now Maria Sharapova’s best, something that was never expected given her initial struggles on clay and the fact that most of her success pre-shoulder surgery came on fast courts. But the world number two is a more patient, consistent player these days, and loves having the extra time to line up her sizzling groundstrokes. She will play a qualifier in the first round in Madrid, followed by either another qualifier or Peng Shuai, who she has beaten four times out of five. In the third round, Sharapova could face 15th seed Dominika Cibulkova, who beat her at this tournament in 2011, or Sabine Lisicki, the formidable but erratic world number 39 who memorably dumped Sharapova out of Wimbledon last summer.

Bidding to become Sharapova’s quarter-final foe are two women whose careers have followed similar paths since 2011. In that year, Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon and Sam Stosur the US Open. Both seemed to have the kind of game that could dominate the rest of the field, but both are also liable to hit a wealth of unforced errors and lose matches to opponents they should beat handily. In spite of their consistency struggles, Kvitova and Stosur have hung on to top ten rankings, but they need a strong result in Madrid to prove that they are legitimate contenders for the French Open. Kvitova shouldn’t have too hard a time against Yanina Wickmayer in her first match, and will face either wild card entrant Daniela Hantuchova or the slumping Sloane Stephens in the second round. Stosur’s task is more difficult: she will take on Carla Suarez Navarro off the bat, a supremely talented and in-form clay courter, and will likely meet Kaia Kanepi in the last 16, the woman Navarro beat to make the final in Oeiras.

At the Mutua Madrid Open, the world’s top players will be competing together for the first time since Miami. Questions abound as the event kicks off. Can Serena maintain her winning streak? How will Azarenka look after a seven-week lay-off? And can Sharapova finally beat Williams after pushing her hard at the Sony Open? Clay courts are traditionally a leveller on the women’s tour, neutralising the power players’ money shots and giving lower-ranked contenders a better chance of denting their armour. Having dispensed with the blue clay that drew the ire of so many top players in 2012, this year’s tournament is set to be the most competitive yet.

Predicted semi-finals: Serena def. Azarenka; Sharapova def. Ivanovic

Champion: Serena Williams

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