Aryna Sabalenka won her first career title on clay at the Madrid Open, ending Ash Barty’s 16-match winning streak on red clay in an exciting three-set final, letting the WTA tour know that she’ll be a threat at the French Open at the end of May.
Having already played each other twice this year, Barty’s record against Sabalenka stood at 2-0 for the 2021 season, beating the Belarusian at the Miami Open in the quarter-final and the final at the Stuttgart Open at the end of April.
Sabalenka sent out a warning early in the first game with a serve the Australian initially had trouble returning, a much talked about part of the Belarusian’s game heading into the match. Sabalenka had only been broken a total of three times at the Madrid Open prior to the final.
The first service game of Barty’s was met with a challenge by the world number seven, seeing off a first break point to return to deuce but she was unable to navigate past a second break point that just grazed the line to remain in.
There were very few cracks in the Belarusian’s service game throughout the first set, meanwhile Barty was losing 60 percent of points on her first serve. Barty only managed to win 13 points in the first set and failed to hold her own serve either, allowing Sabalenka to take her 11th straight set for the Madrid Open in clinical fashion.
The ever-composed Barty showed no signs of worry in the opening game of the second set, forcing Sabalenka to fight past four break points before she managed to claim her first game for the match. The Australian backed this up by winning a love game off of her own serve, as Sabalenka’s unforced error count began to grow.
Sabalenka was quick to fire back, taking her first game of the second set before breaking back, putting Barty on the back foot with her deep court return of serve.
The fifth game looked sewn up for the world number seven at 40-15 before Barty fought her way back into the game, winning four consecutive points to be the first player to break Sabalenka’s serve twice in a match at the Madrid Open this year.
Both players continued to hold their serve for the next three games until Barty once again managed to break Sabalenka’s serve in the final game of the set, sending the pair to a third set to fight for the title.
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The third set began with both Barty and Sabalenka holding serve. Most notably Sabalenka saw off two break points in the fourth game, managing her visible frustration at the early unforced errors in the game.
It wasn’t until the ninth game of the final set until Sabalenka saw a break point opportunity, claiming the break in a down the line return of serve to win a love game and serve for the title.
Sabalenka wasted no time in the final game of the match, serving out another love game in style.
The title pushed Sabalenka’s ranking up to fourth in the world and is her first WTA 1000 win of the season, just the fourth for her career. Meanwhile, this was the first time in 2021 that Barty has advanced to the final of a tournament and not walked away with the title.
With just two weeks to go until the French Open, it is anticipated that Barty will play in the Italian Open in Rome to finish her preparations for the second Grand Slam of 2021.
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