World number one Ashleigh Barty edged out the battle of the champions at Roland Garros on Monday by beating Poland’s Iga Swiatek to reach the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open.
Barty triumphed at Roland Garros in 2019 before Swiatek created another surprise by winning his own first major title in Paris a year later.
Both players will be among Roland Garros favorites next month, but Barty’s credentials gained an extra boost in Madrid, where she beat Swiatek 7-5, 6-4.
The Australian will now face three-time Madrid champion Petra Kvitova for a place in the semi-finals, after Kvitova defeated Russian Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
Swiatek’s loss ends his nine-game unbeaten streak on clay as Barty extends his own winning streak to 14 on the box.
It was far from straightforward, with Barty having to come back from 3-0 in the first set and recover from 0-40 to 3-2 in the second, before sealing the victory in one hour and 41 minutes.
Kvitova, who won the tournament in 2011, 2015 and 2018, also got a big push from Kudermetova, who is one of the in-form players on the tour, having won her first WTA title in Charleston last month.
But Kvitova used all of her experience and excellent service to stay in the running for a record-breaking fourth title in Madrid.
“It was really tough,” Kvitova said afterwards. “It was about serving a lot. It was just a break in each set. I’m really glad I handled most of it mentally. Veronika was really on fire. Since winning Charleston, she’s been playing really well. She will be a great champion.
“The whole game, I wasn’t relaxed, but calm I would say. This is how I managed to achieve victory. “
Eighth seed Belinda Bencic is also on edge after Ons Jabeur retired with a thigh injury as she led 7-6 (7/2) 4-3.
In the men’s draw, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov fell in the first round after losing in three sets to South African Lloyd Harris.
Harris, who beat world number four Dominic Thiem and Denis Shapovalov en route to the final in Dubai in March, pulled off another surprise by ousting Dimitrov 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7/5).
The world number 54 withstood a late retaliation from 13th seed Dimitrov, who saved three match points in the final set before retiring to force a tie-break.
“It was a great game from the top down, I had a set and a break and then I was a break in the third too,” Harris said. “I got a little nervous at the end but I’m happy to finish. “
In his first appearance at the Madrid tournament, Harris will face 22-year-old Australian Alex de Minaur in the second round.
Two-time quarter-finalist John Isner beat Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic 6-4 7-6 (8/6) while 11th seed Shapovalov beat fellow Serb Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-3.
© 2021 AFP