Madrid: Barty, Swiatek set up battle of last two French Open champions

Madrid: Barty, Swiatek set up battle of last two French Open champions

Ashleigh Barty and Iga Swiatek, the 2019 and 2020 champions in Paris, both kept their winning streaks on red clay alive in Madrid on Saturday. They’ll clash for the first time on Monday.

World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty shook off a scratchy middle set to get past Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek on Saturday, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, and move into the third round of the WTA 1000 event in Madrid.

Next up for the 2019 French Open champion: 2020 French Open champion Iga Swiatek.

“Real exciting,” Barty said of what will be her first career meeting against the Polish teenager. "Look, it's a match that I look forward to. I’ve hit with her once in Melbourne a few months ago. She’s got a seriously impressive game. Moves very well on the clay court, can slide off both legs, controls her body really well on clay. Likes to use her hopper, gets around, controls the court with her forehand.

“It’s a challenge that we go into with a really clean slate, a little bit of a period of trying to figure each other out, and just how our games will match up. It’s certainly one I’m looking forward to.”

Despite dropping a set to the No. 80-ranked Zidansek on Saturday, Barty finished the match strong and extended her winning streak on red clay to 13 matches in a row—that includes going 7-0 to win the French Open in 2019, 4-0 to win the WTA 500 in Stuttgart last week and 2-0 so far this week.

“A really tough match. I felt probably my margins were a little bit off today. Made a lot of errors,” the Australian said. “I mean, I think I was missing in the right way, but still just a foot or two here or there makes a big difference. I felt like there were probably too many loose ones for me today.

“Happy overall I was able to find a way early in the third set to get a little bit of momentum.”

Getty Images

Barty’s win over Zidansek was also her 22nd match win of the year, which made her the new WTA match wins leader for 2021—for just a few hours, anyway. Later on in the day, Veronika Kudermetova also got her 22nd win of the year, upsetting 2019 Madrid champion Kiki Bertens, 6-4, 6-3.

The Russian No. 1’s win over the No. 10-ranked defending champion was her sixth career Top 10 win.

But back to the upcoming Barty-Swiatek clash, the No. 17-ranked Swiatek may have scored one of the most impressive wins of the day at the WTA 1000 event on Saturday, defeating Laura Siegemund—a former Top 30 player with 14 career wins over Top 20 players—in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3.

Siegemund fought off an incredible 10 match points before finally bowing out, though.

“Well, I learned that you have to be patient,” Swiatek said afterwards. “Really it was pretty hard to close that match. Match balls are pretty stressful because you know you’re almost at the end. And sometimes a crazy idea may come up—I tried to just be focused on my basic game, to play safe.

“Anyway, I made a lot of little mistakes. It was pretty annoying. It shows that Laura is a great fighter. You could see that in previous games. She’s fighting ’til the end and she’s not giving anything for free.

“I knew it was going to be hard, but it doesn’t really happen often to play 11 match balls.”

Getty Images

Swiatek has now won nine matches in a row on red clay, going 7-0 to win the 2020 French Open and 2-0 so far here. What’s more, she’s won them all in straight sets—that’s 18 sets in a row.

And even more: she hasn’t lost more than four games in any one of those 18 sets.

She’ll now go for the biggest win over her career against the No. 1-ranked Barty.

“I really respect her. Knowing her story, probably I don’t know all of it, but she’s really a solid player, one of the most solid on the tour. She has a great slice. I remember it was hard in Melbourne to keep your legs low, just playing back those slices. I think most of the girls have a problem with that.

“I’m going to play without any expectations because she’s No. 1. She has, I think, the most wins this year. I don’t care. I’m just happy that I’m going to play the world No. 1. It’s just going to be exciting.”

The other Top 20 players in action on Saturday had mixed results: No. 11-ranked Belinda Bencic survived American Bernarda Pera, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5); No. 12 Petra Kvitova beat fellow multiple Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 7-5; but No. 18 Johanna Konta fell to Anastasija Sevastova, 6-3, 6-3.