A couple of wishes came true on another absorbing day of tennis on the red clay of Europe.
In Madrid, Ash Barty won again, and I will have to go with that word clutch again! to reach the quarter finals, and 17 year old Spanish rising star Carlos Alcaraz cleared the Adrian Mannarino hurdle to win his first Masters 1000 match and set up a second round showdown with Spanish great Rafael Nadal.
Let’s start with Ash who was jumped early against the dynamic Iga Swiatek of Poland in a much anticipated first meeting between the two most recent French Open winners.
From 0-3 down the world number 1 clicked into gear, and whilst the first serve wasn’t landing the way she would of liked, off the ground she got the better of the 19 year old to draw level, never facing a break point from that early deficit pulling away to win the first set 7-5.
The Aussie lifted her service percentage in the second set from 46% to 65% and came from 0-40 down to hold for 4-2, after having broken Swiatek in the 3rd game. She maintained the buffer to close out the match 7-5, 6-4.
9-0 now in 2021 against top 20 players. "I think probably the first half an hour was a bit of an adjustment period for both of us. I think it took me some time to get used to Iga's weight of shot. Obviously, we had a game plan going into it, but I had to adjust that and had to kind of learn on the fly a little bit," Barty said.
"It took me some time to get used to that and kind of nut down what I really wanted to do out there. Once I was able to do that, I became a lot more clear and was able to control the match a little bit more the way that I wanted to.
Next a familiar foe, the 9th seed Petra Kvitova. The Czech does hold a slim 5-4 H2H edge over Barty, but the world number one has won four of the last five meetings since 2019, but this will be their first clay court match since Roland Garros 2012, when Petra beat a very young Ash 6-1, 6-2.
On home soil, Paula Badosa, a conqueror of Barty in Charleston this year was the other story of the day, the first wildcard to reach the quarters in Madrid since 2017. The emotion poured out on court, showing how much the hard fought three set win over Anastasia Sevastova meant to her.
I mentioned Carlos Alcaraz, the highest ranked 17 year old in the game , now 114 in the world in the live rankings after his straight sets 6-4, 6-0 win over Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. He never faced a break point on his serve, and hit 19 forehand winners to dispense of a player ranked 86 spots higher.
So we have what we are after – Nadal vs. Alcaraz, the Wednesday match up happens to be on the younger Spaniard’s 18thBirthday.
Elsewhere, Brit Dan Evans won again on clay in a hard fought 7-6, 6-7, 6-2 encounter with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy to back up his semi-final run in Monte Carlo.
Russian Aslan Karatsev scored a debut Madrid win 7-5, 6-4 over Ugo Humbert to move to a 18-5 tour record in 2021. No flash in the pan Australian Open semi for this guy, he is sustaining it and is hungry to keep rising, while South African Lloyd Harris who was runner up to Karatsev when he won his maiden title in Dubai back in March, notched up another scalp this season, ousting 13th seed Grigor Dimitrov - his 5th win against top 50 opponents in 2021. Next he will play Alex De Minaur.
On the doubles court, Max Purcell who elected to stay in Australia to get his body and mind right longer than his other countrymen before joining the tennis bubble, reunited with Luke Saville to score a 7-5 6-3 win over another Aussie in John Peers who was reuniting with his regular partner, Kiwi Michael Venus, who was on the road for the first time since the AO, after the birth of his child.
On the Challenger Tour in Biella, Italy Alex Bolt slumped to 0-5 since he left Australia falling to Argentine Andrea Collarini in the opening round only managing to win 32% of points off his second serve.
Looking ahead, I mentioned Harris/De Minaur tonight AEST, also John Millman to play Miami Open champion Hubert Hurkacz and Alexei Popyrin to face Munich runner up over the weekend Jan Lennard Struff.
There are no easy routes in pro tennis, let’s see if our Aussie men can elevate their games further at a big Masters 1000.
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