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Jabeur passes Paolini test in Madrid; Azarenka, Muchova advance

No.8 seed Ons Jabeur was the first winner of the 2022 Mutua Madrid Open, advancing past Jasmine Paolini 7-6(9), 6-1 in 1 hour and 22 minutes.

Jabeur, making her second appearance at the tournament, is coming off a runner-up showing in Charleston last month. Paolini was bidding for her second career Top 10 win, having gained her first in Indian Wells over Aryna Sabalenka. The pair had never played before.

Match management: It was a match of two halves: an absorbingly tight first set in which Jabeur struggled to put away Paolini, and a more straightforward second set.

Jabeur took a few games to find her range, allowing Paolini to build a 3-0 lead. But after a brief interruption at that point due to a misbehaving soundsystem, the World No.10’s accuracy on her forehand improved.

But Paolini showed impressive determination in the face of Jabeur’s creativity and aggression. She regained her break lead for 4-2, and even when Jabeur overturned this deficit, prevented the Tunisian from serving out the set twice. In a nailbiting tiebreak, Paolini saved four set points – one with a marvellous off backhand pass – before succumbing on the fifth with a netted forehand.

With the opening act under her belt, Jabeur’s tennis became more relaxed and free-flowing. She claimed the first break by coming out on top of a bruising forehand-to-forehand exchange, and accelerated to the finishing line from there.

By the numbers: Jabeur’s superior aggression was evidenced by her 33 winners to Paolini’s seven. Whereas she also committed 44 unforced errors, Paolini’s 22 made for a far more unbalanced ratio for the Italian.

In Jabeur’s words: “The whole match, obviously I didn’t want to play the way I wanted to play. But I’m glad I was able to get the win under such conditions. It changes from playing indoors to outdoors. But first match is always tough in a tournament. I’m happy that I got the win today and hopefully the level will be much better for the next matches.”

What’s next for Jabeur: A second-round clash against either Alizé Cornet or qualifier Varvara Gracheva.

Azarenka, Muchova make winning returns

No.15 seed Victoria Azarenka followed Jabeur on Arantxa Sánchez Stadium and virtually replicated the same winning dynamic, beating Viktorija Golubic 7-6(5), 6-3 in 1 hour and 44 minutes.

Azarenka was competing for the first time since retiring against Linda Fruhvirtova in the third round of Miami due to personal reasons. Like Jabeur, she had to recover from an early break down to survive a quality opponent. Golubic fired several sumptuous single-handed backhands and delightful dropshots, leading 2-0 in the first set and then serving for it at 6-5.

But once Azarenka’s own backhand became a factor in the match, it proved decisive. Clubbing it with greater accuracy, it was key to eking out a tight tiebreak and then strengthening her grasp on the match as Golubic’s consistency fell away in the second set.

Two-time Madrid finalist Azarenka, who was runner-up to Petra Kvitova in 2011 and Serena Williams in 2012, will next face Tamara Zidansek or lucky loser Beatriz Haddad Maia.

Highlights: Muchova d. Q.Zheng

Former Australian Open semifinalist Muchova was also playing for the first time since Miami, where she returned from a seven-month hiatus but withdrew ahead of her third round due to the same abdominal injury. The Czech recovered after a slow start to defeat Zheng Qinwen 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in 2 hours and 25 minutes.

Muchova was initially overpowered, but judicious net approaches and dropshots enabled her to out-manoeuvre the Chinese teenager. She is unbeaten in four matches so far this year, which now include two victories over the 2002-born generation following her Miami upset of Leylah Fernandez.

Elsewhere, No.52-ranked Nuria Parrizas Diaz scored the first home win of the tournament. The 30-year-old Spaniard, making her Madrid debut, defeated Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-2 for the first Top 30 victory of her career.

Madrid: Azarenka survives Golubic shotmaking in opener

2022 Madrid

 




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