In what looks to be the match of the day on paper, Sloane Stephens will take on Victoria Azarenka for a spot in the third round of the Madrid Open. Azarenka was a two time losing finalist in the early years of the event but has generally found it difficult on clay, even while a top star.
There still hasn’t been a great deal of evidence to suggest Azarenka can ever get close to the heights of her mid 2010s level, where she held the No.1 spot for a good while. However, her opening matches on the clay have given some cause to be hopeful. She picked up a win over Karolina Pliskova in Stuttgart and really should have beaten Anett Kontaveit before injury struck. She also earned a strong win over Daria Kasatkina to begin this tournament, breaking the Russian five times in a 7-5 6-4 victory. “I’m very happy with the way I fought today. I think that winning without your A game, against a player who is in her 20s and in Top 20s, I think is really a silver lining.” she said afterwards. “I’m taking all of the positives from today, and try to move on and find my best game. But a win is a win, and I’m happy with that today.”
Ahead of defending finals points in Paris, Sloane will want to get some much needed wins under her belt with 2019 producing just one quarter final for her so far. The American eased past Polona Hercog in round one, extend her record against the Slovenian to 3-0 (6-0 in sets). It will be a much tougher ask for her in the next round against an opponent she has had some notable clashes with.
After losing three straight prior to 2018, Stephens has been somewhat of a nemesis for Azarenka – stopping her in her tracks three times. Amongst them was the Miami Open semi final, where the Belarussian was a set up and looked to be on her way to a big milestone in her return only to lose in three quite comfortably. This should be another intriguing clash, especially with some good performances from the former No.1 on the clay so far.
Prediction – Victoria Azarenka in three sets