What's at stake for the women at Madrid Open?

Home pressures, tough draws and big clay dreams, there is plenty on the line this week at the Caja Magica.

Paula Badosa / Roland-Garros 2021©Loïc Wacziak / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

The road to Roland-Garros leads the players to the Spanish capital this week for the Mutua Madrid Open, where the women’s event kicks off on Thursday, before the men get in on the action on Sunday.

Here’s a look at some of the main talking points in the WTA draw at the Caja Magica.

Badosa braced for ‘stressful’ home tournament

In the wake of world No.1 Iga Swiatek’s withdrawal due to a right shoulder injury, No.2 Paula Badosa is the highest seed in the draw and is the first Spanish woman to hold the top seed in Madrid.

Badosa rose to a career-high world No.2 on Monday, just a year after needing a wildcard to compete in this tournament. The 24-year-old Catalonian enjoyed a breakthrough run to the semi-finals at the Caja Magica 12 months ago, which sparked an inspired title triumph in Belgrade two weeks later and a maiden march to the Roland-Garros quarters shortly after.

She arrives to the Spanish capital this week far removed from where she was this time last year and has all eyes on her as the host nation’s ‘woman of the hour’.  

Asked to describe how it feels to compete at her home tournament as the new world No.2, Badosa quickly said with a laugh: “Stressful. That's the word. It's stressful, nerves. I really want to do well here.

“I always say it; because I'm playing in front of my people, my family, everyone. It's special. I live in Madrid, so it's even more special for me. So yeah, there are a lot of emotions.

“And then as well, I'm having a very tough draw, so it's going to be very complicated. I will just focus on tomorrow and try to do my best. And why not try to enjoy it as well, all these nerves and all this situation. It's very new.”

Badosa opens her campaign on Thursday against world No.25 Veronika Kudermetova, who is a three-time finalist already this season, including a runner-up showing in Istanbul last week.

Kudermetova is 2-1 head-to-head against the Spaniard but Badosa won their most recent meeting at Indian Wells last month.

Tough opener for defending champion

Just like last year, Aryna Sabalenka comes to Madrid fresh off a runner-up appearance in Stuttgart.

In 2021, she lost to Ashleigh Barty in the final in Stuttgart before avenging that defeat by besting the now-retired Australian in the Madrid final.

World No.4 Sabalenka, one of three former Madrid Open champions in the draw alongside Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova, will have to be sharp from the get-go as she takes on 2019 Roland-Garros semi-finalist Amanda Anisimova in the first round on Thursday.

Should she pass that opening test, Sabalenka could potentially face an in-form Liudmila Samsonova in round two. The good news for the Belarusian is that her power-hitting game is perfectly suited for the altitude and conditions in Madrid.

Osaka borrows a few tricks from Rafa’s claybook

Former world No.1 Naomi Osaka is set to kick off her clay swing in Madrid on Friday, where she will be testing out a few new changes to her game, some inspired by watching several videos of Rafael Nadal on the red dirt.

The Japanese-Haitian star, who won all of her four Grand Slam titles on hard courts, is keen to improve her clay-court prowess and naturally chose 13-time Roland-Garros champion Nadal as the ultimate template to follow when it comes to movement on the terre battue.

“I know that every kid growing up playing tennis in the world has pretended to be Nadal at least once,” Osaka told reporters on Wednesday.

“I changed a couple of things (to adjust to the clay), I think you guys will be able to tell when I play, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. I would say I did change a couple of things to suit myself more for clay.

“I think I stole one of the things that he (Nadal) did and I’ve been practicing it recently. It’ll either go really good or really bad. There’s like no in between.

“But I think as I’ve been doing it, it’s been going pretty well. Honestly I’ve been wanting to watch the really good clay-court players practice because I feel like I’m the type of person that learns really fast if I see it up close and honestly it’s a bit of a waste to have all these really good professional tennis players and not watch them.”

Osaka is likely going to need many of those new tricks she picked up as she opens against a red-hot Anastasia Potapova, who lifted the Istanbul title on Sunday then flew to Madrid and won two qualifying matches to book her spot in the main draw.

Raducanu looks to build on positive clay debut

Up until last week, US Open champion Emma Raducanu had never played a tour-level tournament on clay. Ever.

The British teenager reached the quarter-finals in Stuttgart on her clay debut last week, where she gave Swiatek a run for her money before falling to the world No.1.

After announcing her decision to part ways with German coach Torben Beltz, Raducanu assures she is confident in how she is doing things in practice – supported by LTA coach Iain Bates – and has taken many positives from her week in Stuttgart.

“For me, it’s one of the nicer surfaces because I’ve got the moving element of clay, which I actually quite enjoy, and also the quickness of the court, it was still very fast. It played like an indoor hard court really and I really enjoyed that,” said Raducanu, who plays Tereza Martincova in the first round on Friday.

“But I think what clicked last week for sure was my serving. I was serving a lot better, my first serve, getting some cheap points, which I maybe haven’t always been able to get in high percentages. And also just trying to play freer and looser in terms of just going for the opportunity as soon as it presents itself.”

Halep’s first outing with new coaching set-up

Two-time Madrid champion Simona Halep will be contesting her first tournament since announcing she has hired Patrick Mouratoglou – Serena Williams’ former coach – as her full-time coach.

The former world No.1 has not played since reaching the semi-finals of Indian Wells nearly six weeks ago, having pulled out of Miami after aggravating a left thigh injury.

The Romanian starts her Madrid journey on Thursday against Zhang Shuai, looking to inaugurate her new coaching set-up on a positive note.