Can Aryna Sabalenka defend the Madrid Open title?

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Aryna Sabalenka may not have had the best run at the Miami Open this year, but she’s shown her ability to bounce back time and time again.

Winning the Madrid Open in 2021, Aryna Sabalenka will have the likes of new world No.1 Iga Swiatek to contend with in order to defend that title this year. After a shaky start to the year, Sabalenka has been making slow but steady strides to find her form again, but will she be able to recuperate in time to give herself a shot at the WTA 1000 event in Spain?

Aryna Sabalenka
Aryna Sabalenka

Defeating Ashleigh Barty; Maintaining a Top 5 rank

Last year, Aryna Sabalenka found herself in some incredible form during the clay-court season as she ripped through the competition, having only dropped a single set the entire tournament. More impressively still, she overcame former world No.1 Ashleigh Barty in the finals to secure the title, producing a resounding scoreline of 6-0 3-6 6-4. With this victory, the Belarusian propelled herself to new heights, obtaining her fourth WTA 1000 title and entering the Top 5 rankings for the first time in her career as the world No.4.

Aryna Sabalenka Ashleigh Barty
Aryna Sabalenka defeated Ashleigh Barty in the final of the 2021 Mutua Madrid Open WTA 1000 tournament

While the glory of a Grand Slam title continues to elude her, Aryna Sabalenka has achieved 10 WTA career titles in her still very young career. In addition, her consistent participation in major and minor tournaments, regardless of her form, has allowed her to stay in the competition and maintain her ranking as the world No.4. Having reached the semifinals of both Wimbledon and the US Open last year and kicking off the year with a fourth-round exit at the Australian Open, there is still plenty of sleeping potential that the Belarusian has yet to tap into.

Promising playstyle of Aryna Sabalenka

The best case one can make for Aryna Sabalenka to see success at the Madrid Open this year is her powerful playstyle that we all know she has the ability to bring forth. Her service game is potentially one of the most lethal in the game, albeit it’s hindered by inconsistency through a high double-fault count. Known for her relentless baseline play and a high number of winners per match, Sabalenka’s biggest enemy is, no doubt, herself, making her the type of player that could beat anyone or lose to anyone.

Another grand challenge for the world No.4 will be her ability to adapt to the clay surface at Madrid. While she did a great job of accomplishing this last year, the reality is that Sabalenka’s playstyle is far more suited for grass and hard courts. This is because of her tendency to hit fast flat shots and big high-speed serves to overpower her opponents. No doubt, the 23-year-old’s toughest potential opponent will be a fellow youngster and Top 5 member Iga Swiatek, who contrastingly sports a heavy topspin playstyle that has allowed her to secure the French Open title in 2020.

Down but not out!

At the Adelaide International this year, Aryna Sabalenka notoriously lost touch with her serve and resorted to tapping the ball in, and even underarm serves. In interviews, she admitted she just couldn’t find her rhythm and resolved to place more focus on her service game during preseason training. Indeed, what critics would often call her “biggest strength” quickly became a huge weakness for the Belarusian. Her dropped form was reflected in her inconsistent results in tournaments with recent premature exits from Indian Wells, Miami, and Charleston.

Aryna Sabalenka Madrid Open
Aryna Sabalenka with the champion’s trophy at the 2021 Mutua Madrid Open WTA 1000 tournament

In truth, Aryna Sabalenka’s playstyle is more aggressive and power-driven than most, making her more susceptible to errors due to high-risk hitting and bigger swinging motions. A key statistic that highlights the “all-or-nothing” nature of Sabalenka’s service game is the fact that she ranked third place for most aces hit in 2020, but also ranked first for most double-faults hit in that same year. Holding the power to destroy her opponents or destroy herself, the Belarusian will need to make some tweaks to her serve to truly transform it into an effective weapon to threaten the title once again at Madrid in the coming weeks.

Aryna Sabalenka

Scheduled to take place on 26th of April 2022, the Madrid Open is set to be a fierce competition despite the absence of Ash Barty, as Iga Swiatek continues to dominate the top spot. With the Sunshine Double champion posing as the public enemy number one for the clay-court season, Aryna Sabalenka will need to leverage her extra years of professional experience to put a stop to the Pole. Of course, Sabalenka’s success starts with herself, so the Belarusian will be doing everything she can to get her serves and groundstrokes to deliver her best tennis that we all know she is capable of.

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