Damien Kayat previews selected second round matches of the Mutua Madrid Open
Petra Kvitova (9) (2/7) vs Angelique Kerber (51/20)
This is a real blockbuster 2nd round tie in one of the crucial precursor events leading up to Roland Garros: the Madrid Open. Petra Kvitova is a curious one on this surface. One would instinctively think that Kvitova’s game isn’t really cut out for clay. She relies on her powerful groundstrokes to offset her mobility issues. But she has shown the capacity to really succeed on this surface. The three-time Madrid Open Champion is like royalty here. Her 2015 final victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova is the stuff of legend (she hit 33 winners in the space of 66 brutal minutes). Kvitova also managed to reach the final four of Roland Garros last season. It all really boils down to how well she serves. That has been one of her chief struggles this season (albeit she did capture the Qatar title). Her last outing in Stuttgart saw her fall to Elina Svitolina. She managed to get through her first-round match after fellow Czech Marie Bouzkova was forced to retire.
What has happened to Angelique Kerber in recent times? Like Kvitova, she was also dumped out by Elina Svitolina at Stuttgart. She also suffered a 3rd round exit at the Miami Open at the hands of Victoria Azarenka. Just to further illuminate how calamitous her season has been thus far: she also lost in the opening rounds of the Aussie Open and Dubai Open. It’s too neat to say all her issues stem from the Covid break: her form had already started to plateau prior to that. But I would say that she is exactly the sort of routine-demon who was heavily affected by last year’s events. Her serve (long since the bane of her tennis existence) is simply cannon fodder for some of these huge-hitting upstarts. Traditionally, clay has not been a friend of Kerber (either side of her 2018 quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros she has four first round exits at the French Open). So, this looks like an uphill battle for Kerber. Having said that, she was excellent in overcoming the always-dangerous Vondrousova in the opening round.
These two have a simply remarkable rivalry. Kvitova has a slight edge with a 7-6 win-loss ratio (though their last match did come back in early 2019). Those stats do suggest that Kerber has the game to withstand Kvitova’s power. She is brilliant at picking serves and perhaps allows Kvitova fewer cheap points than most. For this reason, I think that Kerber may just nick a set off the Czech. Kvitova to win in three at 31/10 sounds good.
Anastasija Sevatsova (52/100) vs Johanna Konta (29/20)
British Number One Johanna Konta has endured a wretched run of injuries and form over the past two years. The three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist and former Miami Open Champion has played just seven matches this year- winning just three. But the durable 29-year-old looked brilliant in her opening round victory against Putintseva. The British Number One was actually making her clay-court debut this season, after choosing to skip the event in Stuttgart last week due to Coronavirus concerns. While much of Konta’s success has come on faster surfaces, she has certainly shown plenty of ability on clay when it has counted. In 2019 she reached the final of the Rome event. She backed that up with an incredible run to the Roland Garros semi-finals. Konta has been poor this year but she has always possessed the ability to snap back into form.
The volatile career of Anastasija Sevatsova has always intrigued me. She actually announced her retirement from the sport back in 2013 due to a series of injuries and illness. The Latvian is a reliable baseliner who know one wants to play in these early rounds. The 2018 US Open semi-finalist also reached the semi-final stage on these very courts in 2017. Though she’s perceived as a hardcourt specialist, her first title came on clay at the 2010 Estoril Open. She breezed through qualifying here and absolutely thrashed Ana Bogdan in the opening round. To sound like a broken record, the last two years have been pretty awful for Sevatsova. But a quarterfinal run at Miami seemed to hint at a return to something resembling her best form.
These two actually have a tight head-to-head record. It sits at two wins apiece, with Sevatsova winning their last match in 2017 (those happened to some on the clay-courts of Stuttgart). I’m actually feeling the Latvian here. Sevatsova is a dangerous ball-striker and she looked mighty impressive against Bogdan.