In Madrid, a city that loves to nap, Petra Kvitova finally got a chance to enjoy a well-deserved siesta on her day off, before she returned to the court on Tuesday to log her seventh consecutive match win.
The world No. 10 played her Madrid Open first round within 30 hours from her Prague Open final, claiming a sixth victory in as many days.
On Tuesday, she took her streak to seven in a row with a 6-3, 7-6 (8) success over Olympic gold medallist Monica Puig, who owned a clean 2-0 record against Kvitova prior to this week.
“I had a good treatment yesterday, I had a nap in the afternoon, a pretty long one actually as well, so I felt good this morning, which I’m very pleased with. I don’t have any injuries or anything, so it was a good day in the office today,” said a refreshed-looking Kvitova after securing a place in the third round in the Spanish capital.
While clay isn’t necessarily Kvitova’s favourite surface, she has enjoyed success on it. She won the Madrid trophy twice, in 2011 and 2015, and her current seven-match winning run has come on the red dirt.
The Czech two-time Wimbledon champion is having a brilliant 2018, having picked up titles in St. Petersburg, Doha and Prague. This time last year, she was preparing to return from a six-month hiatus following hand surgery for injuries she sustained in a knife attack at her apartment in December 2016.
She has since won titles on every surface, and went on a 14-match winning streak on hard courts from February to March this season.
“I need to enjoy them for sure, they are great streaks, I don’t have that many in my career anyway, so everyone is pretty excited. And this one as well, on the clay it’s very special,” said Kvitova, who next plays either Anett Kontaveit or Aliaksandra Sasnovich in round three at the Caja Magica.
“Yesterday we were saying with the team that I couldn’t really imagine coming back and winning four titles already, three this year, and it’s only May. It’s a big surprise actually for me.”
Meanwhile, two-time defending champion Simona Halep eased past an ailing Elise Mertens 6-0, 6-3 to set up a third round against qualifier Kristyna Pliskova.
Halep extended her winning streak in Madrid to 14 straight matches and ended Mertens’ 13-match winning streak. Mertens had come to the Spanish capital with back-to-back titles won in Lugano and Rabat but was dealing with a stomach illness since she arrived in Madrid.
— WTA (@WTA) May 8, 2018
Home favourite Carla Suarez Navarro put together a heroic performance to upset No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 – her fourth win in seven meetings with the Ukrainian. Suarez Navarro sealed her win on a crazy fifth match point, in which she fell on the floor while hitting a drop shot then got up and ended up securing the victory.
It’s the same story almost every year – the clay season comes around and it immediately becomes The Rafael Nadal Show.
Nadal is just one month shy of his 32nd birthday, and he’s just as dominant on the surface as he was when he was 19.
He enters Madrid carrying a 19-match winning streak on the red dirt, and having won his last 46 consecutive sets on the surface.
For his rivals hoping to share the spoils, it must be frustrating knowing how limited their chances become when the season passes through European clay.
They also know that in order to win a clay-court title this stretch, they will more than likely have to defeat Nadal in order to pull it off.
Here’s what some of his biggest rivals said about Nadal’s clay-court reign.
Juan Martin del Potro (world No. 6)
Yes. But first you have to win a lot of matches before a Rafa match. But Rafa or Roger (Federer) are the favorites in all tournaments. We already know how it works. When we move to grass, Roger will be the favorite to win all the tournaments on grass. We already know that. I think Rafa is playing so good, but other guys have chances to beat him. We already made it in the past, so we can repeat this year. But, of course, Rafa has everything to keep winning. We just do what we can against him.
If Rafa keeps winning, I think it’s normal. But if we do good results playing against him, could be a surprise. We are looking forward to surprise him.
Dominic Thiem (world No. 7)
(Beating Rafa on clay) It’s one of the most difficult things in sport to do that, but on a good day, for some players I think it’s possible. Especially here in Madrid and in Rome, I think the chances are the highest. Because out of all the clay-court tournaments, I think here and in Rome it’s the most difficult for him. Still of course he’s playing amazing also in these tournaments but for the other players it’s a bit easier because it’s faster and a little bit higher bounce and everything.
Grigor Dimitrov (world No. 4)
For me personally that pushes me to do better and to work on the things I feel I can do better. It’s nice to have such a measuring cup (stick) so to speak, which is arguably the greatest player out there on clay, not arguably, he’s the greatest for me on clay. And just the way he plays, in a way you know how the ball is going to be, where it’s going to come and yet there’s not much you can do, but this is something that I enjoy a lot.
I love practicing against him, I love playing matches. I think it’s great to have a reference in a way, a reference like that to improve yourself. And yet you go after practice and you always try to see what else I could have done better, this shot wasn’t good enough, what can I do better? That itself pushes you to do better.
You have to try to exploit his weaknesses. He still has weaknesses and I think you can find them but the problem is sustaining that for whatever time during the match or best-of-five sets, it’s a whole other conversation.
“Even though I’m not in my best shape, I like to know that next to my name is ‘we never know’, so we never know,” Monfils said after his battling 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili that ended a little before midnight on Monday.
“It’s always tough obviously to play Rafa on clay courts, especially this year, he hasn’t lost a set on clay courts. It’s going to be a big challenge on Wednesday. I’m not in my best shape, that’s a shame a little bit. I just wish I will offer a great match. And when you step on the court you still have the belief that you can win, that’s the beauty of the sport.”
Monfils made a return to action last week in Munich, after being sidelined for seven weeks with a back problem he picked up in Indian Wells in March.
He lost his opener to Mirza Basic in Munich but avoided a similar fate against Georgia’s Basilashvili on Monday night.
“I escaped but it was very close,” said the 41st-ranked Monfils.
“I think I’m getting there slowly,” he said of his physical shape.
“I can see the way I’m moving, I’m a bit slower. My recovery between points, long points especially, it’s a bit tougher. The choice, when I’m out of breath a little bit, my choice, a lot of drop shots today because I didn’t want to play so many points.
“I think I know when I’m in shape I’m not making that selection of shots so definitely no drop shots on Wednesday, not that much. Some more shots that I have to pull out, even if I’m tired, maybe it will help to find a better shape.”
Nadal leads Monfils 13-2 head-to-head and has won his last five straight matches against the Frenchman.
The Mallorcan is on a 19-match winning streak on clay, and has won his last 46 sets in a row on the surface. Monfils knows exactly what he’s up against.
“He’s a legend,” Monfils said of Nadal.
“We are lucky to have two legends (Nadal and Federer) and obviously he’s one of those two. It’s not even credit, it’s Rafa.
“I just admire what he’s doing and actually I feel blessed to have the honour to play against those guys and on Wednesday I will try to break that record (streak), that’s a good motivation too.”
While he’s won it five times already, Madrid is perhaps the clay tournament where Nadal can show some chinks in his armour, due to the altitude and faster conditions.
But a faster court is not necessarily a better thing for Monfils. It doesn’t help that he seemed to have hurt his Achilles’ towards the end of his match with Basilashvili on Monday.
“For sure I’ll try to be aggressive because every time you want to be aggressive against Rafa. But it’s not that easy to be aggressive against him,” explains Monfils.
“His ball, the way he’s moving you on the court, so definitely my mindset will be that I’ll try to be on top of him but it will never happen.
“It will be more a battle from the baseline. For sure I can hold a few games like that because I think I have a few games in the tank but if I go for a long match like that he will win very easily. I’m not yet in great shape to battle with him.”
The former world No. 6 has not defeated Nadal since Doha 2012. His best appearance at the Caja Magica was making the quarter-finals in 2010.
On his part, Nadal isn’t taking his stunning clay-court record for granted (he has won 92 per cent of his clay matches) and insists there are no guarantees.
“I don’t think that I am superior to the other players. Maybe some tournaments have been better than others, but that doesn’t guarantee that in the future I’m going to be better than my opponents,” said the top-ranked Nadal.