Australia’s Ash Barty faced Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka in the final of the Mutua Madrid Open, a WTA 1000 event.
It was Barty’s fourth final in 2021 and she was aiming to stay perfect in final’s as well as extending her 16 match win streak on red clay.
Sabalenka opened the match with a service hold where she immediately displayed her power game. Barty took a few serves to adjust to the powerful serves from her opponent.
In Barty’s opening service game she was twice taken to deuce before Sabalenka earned a first break point after Barty hit long.
A terrific one-two punch saved that after a wide serve that was returned short and then Barty stepped in to hit a forehand winner.
On the next point Barty was in control at the net but dragged her volley into the net to give her opponent a second break opportunity.
Sabalenka’s big return was close to the baseline but was called out however a challenge review showed that the ball clipped the line on the way through to give the Belarusian the first break of the match and a 2-0 lead.
The world no. 7 would back up the break to open up a 3-0 lead in the opening set.
Sabalenka really took control of the set after getting a second break of serve after a backhand from Barty sailed long to give a break point, followed by a drop shot winner.
Sabalenka made her first unforced error of the match at 4-0, 40-0 but she still held serve to leave Barty wondering what to do at 5-0.
Another unforced error off of a backhand slice from Barty gave Sabalenka two set points. A good serve saved one, but another unforced error with a backhand slice into the net saw Sabalenka take the set 6-0.
It was an amazing display by the Belarusian as she used power and finesse to stun her opponent.
Barty’s strength is being able to make adjustments on the run to turn around matches, could she do it on this occasion?
In the first set it was 11 winners to four for Sabalenka and four unforced errors to one for Barty. Sabalenka won 3/5 break points with Barty not getting a single look at a break point on Sabalenka’s serve.
Barty had several break points in the opening game of the second set and was able to convert on the fourth occasion after Sabalenka hit a backhand well over the baseline.
Barty held to love in the next game to get things back on track at 2-0.
Sabalenka held her serve to see the score at 2-1 before breaking Barty to get games back on serve.
Another break of serve came and the world no. 1 was serving at 3-2 in the second set. Barty held for a 4-2 lead.
A few more holds of serve and Barty was up 5-3 with Sabalenka serving. Barty would break to take the second set 6-3.
Barty was pushed in the opening game of the third set but would hold to take the early lead.
A pair of holds and the score was 2-1. Sabalenka would double fault to give Barty two break points. She hit the court in frustration.
Sabalenka was able to get back to deuce and then have Ad thanks to some big serves. A big forehand winner game her the game and she let out a big “Come On!!”
A love service hold saw put the pressure immediately back on the Belarusian at 2-3. She would hold followed by another Barty hold of serve.
A big return at 4-4 with Barty serving saw Sabalenka force an error to take the first point. Barty sliced into the net to fall behind 0-30.
A double fault and suddenly Barty was in trouble at 0-40. A backhand return winner and it was a break for Sabalenka and she was serving for the title.
Sabalenka found some big serves to hold to love and claim the title. She then did a little dance to celebrate.
It ended Barty’s win streak on red clay and also avenged the final loss to Barty in Stuttgart a few weeks ago.
This is Sabalenka’s 10th title of her career, her first on clay.
“I’m not really scared of this surface any more,” Sabalenka declared afterwards. “Before I was too much thinking about the clay court, that this is surface not for me, that it’s really tough to play on this surface, it’s long rallies. I was really too much thinking about this. This year I relaxed and just play my game. I worked a lot on the movement, so I prepare myself really well for the clay court.”
“Before on the clay court I tried to change my game a little bit,” she said. “I tried to play with the topspin, slice, all this stuff. [My coach] said, Listen, you don’t need to change your game. Of course, it’s good that you can use a little bit more spin on the ball, have this variation. You just have to stay aggressive here and be ready that the ball will come back a little bit more than on a hard court. It’s just about little bit longer rallies.”
“I wouldn’t compare match in Miami and here to Stuttgart,” said Sabalenka. “Stuttgart I was injured. It’s tough to say anything about that match. She was just unbelievable. I gave her opportunity there, and she took it. In Miami, it was really slow courts, long rallies. It was really hot. There, physically I would say it was much harder to play against her than here.
“I think what I did really well here, I stayed focused from the beginning till the end. I was putting her under the pressure, especially in the end of the third set. In those key moments I was a little bit more aggressive. That’s what really helped me to win this match.”
“She takes the ball out of my court and essentially takes the racquet out of my hand when she serves the way she did in the first set,” said Barty. “I gave her a few too many looks on second serves. She’s able to dominate and take that away from me. I guarantee it won’t be the last time that it happens. I’ll continue to fight and try to find a way back in each and every time.”
“It’s tough to take too many good things out of it,” she said of the whitewash set. “You just reset and start again. That was important for me to try to do. I think I just needed to try a few different things. I shifted my court position around more than anything to try to give her a little bit of a different look, try to break some rhythm, some momentum. I was able to do that.”