With Roland Garros kicking off at the end of May, tennis has now reached the heart of the clay-court swing. The top players on both tours will hope to find momentum in the coming fortnight with Madrid and Rome back-to-back.
Petra Kvitova, who’s been hoovering up titles of late, is the defending WTA champion and the woman to beat in the Spanish capital. I’ve also selected three outsiders who could cause a stir this week.
I could probably write a book about how extraordinary the Czech is, both on and off the court. Words like ‘warrior’ and ‘champion’ hardly do her justice given all she’s faced in recent years.
Since coming back from the violent attack in her home, the 29-year-old has achieved extraordinary results in what she calls her ‘second career’.
The recent win in Stuttgart is her seventh title since February 2018 and second of the season.
Overall, Kvitova has made nine finals in the past 15 months and four already in 2019.
When I mention that she is also defending champion in Madrid and has three times lifted the trophy at the Caja Magica, it’s clear who the draw will fear most this week.
The world no.2 will start against Sofia Kenin and could play compatriot Barbora Strycova or a qualifier in the next round. Madison Keys could prove troublesome in the third round but the clash to watch for is a potential quarter-final with Kiki Bertens.
If the Czech plays well, there’s little anyone else in the field can do to stop her from title no.4.
While Bertens has certainly expanded her game to play well on various surfaces, clay is still her strong suit. The Dutch woman has captured five of her eight career titles on the dirt.
After winning St. Petersburg in February, the 27-year-old has been steady rather than spectacular in the weeks since. However, she kicked into life in Stuttgart where she made the semis thanks to wins over Belinda Bencic and Angie Kerber. Bertens was runner-up here 12 months ago and comes to Spain brimming with confidence.
Bertens should have too much for Katerina Siniakova in the first round and I’d be surprised if she failed to make it out of her section. Unfortunately for the world no.7, Kvitova is the likely opponent should she make the last eight.
While the world no.6 is still lighting up social media with her fellow tennis star boyfriend Gael Monfils, things have gone a little quiet for her on the court.
After making the last four in Indian Wells, the 24-year-old was shocked in the second round of Miami by Yafan Wang. We haven’t seen her on a pro court since. While the Ukrainian doesn’t have great pedigree in Madrid, she’s an excellent player on clay and has been handed a very manageable draw.
Svitolina shouldn’t lose to Pauline Parmentier in the first round and will also fancy her chances against Irina Camelia Begu or Yulia Putintseva in the second. The uber-talented Ashleigh Barty is the other seed in her section but Svitolina is more of a natural on this surface.
We’ve a good chance of seeing Svitolina quietly make her way through to the last eight as she so often does.
I thought the Estonian might fare well in Stuttgart when I wrote my preview. Thankfully, I get the odd thing right every now and again and Kontaveit surged to the final in Germany, only halted by Kvitova in the final.
The 23-year-old is hitting the ball really well at the moment and finds herself in an interesting section with the world no.1 Naomi Osaka and Elise Mertens. She should get past Aliaksandra Sasnovich in her opener and is currently playing better than both Osaka and Mertens.
If Kontaveit makes it out of the section, she’s projected to meet Karolina Pliskova or Aryna Sabalenka in the quarters.