Tennis

Spanish surge bubbling under as Madrid kicks off

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When Spain’s top two players, Garbiñe Muguruza and Sara Sorribes Tormo, picked up WTA Tour titles in March, it was significant both individually and nationally.

Muguruza’s Dubai trophy was her eighth overall, but first at 1000 level since Cincinnati 2017. It capped a resurgence that has seen the two-time Grand Slam champion put together the most consistently excellent spell of her career.

Since the start of 2020, Muguruza has won multiple matches in 13 of her 15 tournaments, and had preceded her Dubai run with final showings at the Australian Open in 2020, and the Yarra Valley Classic and Doha in 2021.

Garbiñe Muguruza practices ahead of the 2021 Mutua Madrid Open.


Photo by Mutua Madrid Open

On the other side of the world, Sorribes Tormo was capturing her maiden title in Guadalajara. The 24-year-old has been one of the season’s most improved players, and immediately backed it up with a semifinal run in Monterrey and her first 1000 quarterfinal in Miami.

Sorribes Tormo’s surge enabled her to crack the Top 50 for the first time, but her bolstered reputation can be summed up in the kind of matches she excels in. She has won three of the 25 longest matches of the season so far, including two clocking in at over three hours, and is one of only two players to have saved match point en route to victory in 2021 (alongside Elina Svitolina). An opening clash against former champion Simona Halep could well be another such longueur.

Interview: Why Sara Sorribes Tormo could be the toughest out on tour

Interestingly, Muguruza and Sorribes Tormo represent two divergent stylistic paths of Spanish tennis. Sorribes Tormo’s defensive skills and touch at net are a throwback to the country’s traditional strengths, as encapsulated by the ’90s heyday of Grand Slam champions Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and Conchita Martínez. Muguruza’s emergence in 2012 signalled a clean break with this in favour of the modern game’s raw power.

The pair’s simultaneous haul of silverware also marked the first time in nearly a decade that two Spaniards had won WTA titles in the same week. The last time this happened was in July 2011, when Anabel Medina Garrigues captured the 11th and final trophy of her career in Palermo and María José Martínez Sánchez won her fourth in Bad Gastein.

Aliona Bolsova during 2021 Madrid qualifying.


Photo by Mutua Madrid Open

Badosa, Bolsova also rising; Suárez Navarro returning

Muguruza and Sorribes Tormo are also ably supported on the main tour by Paula Badosa and Aliona Bolsova, two 23-year-olds who were born within 10 days of each other in November 1997.

Former Roland Garros junior champion Badosa has been on an upswing since the Tour resumption, reaching semifinals at Istanbul 2020 and Lyon 2021 and a debut Grand Slam fourth-round appearance in Paris last autumn. A month ago, Badosa scored a career-best win over World No.1 Ashleigh Barty in the Charleston quarterfinals, and consequently sits at a career high of World No.62.

Meanwhile, Bolsova reached the fourth round of Roland Garros 2019 on her Grand Slam debut, and has also been gaining a reputation as one of the Tour’s more thoughtful characters. The Florida Atlantic University alumna spent her Australian quarantine this January brushing up on her 20th century feminist theory (Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity) and has been keen to expound on those ideas in interviews.

Carla Suárez Navarro practices with Venus Williams at the Caja Mágica.


Photo by Mutua Madrid Open

There will also be a heartwarming farewell narrative among the Spanish squad this year. Carla Suárez Navarro made her WTA main draw debut in February 2008 in Viña del Mar, and went on to reach seven Grand Slam quarterfinals and a career high of World No.6.

Suárez Navarro intended 2020 to be her final year on tour – but first Covid-19 and then her own fight against Hodgkin’s lymphoma threw a wrench in her plans. Having declared victory in the latter battle, though, the Canary Islander is ready to say goodbye properly. Suárez Navarro intends to return to action at Roland Garros next month, and is using practice time on site in Madrid to gauge her level.

Conchita Martínez at Abu Dhabi 2021.


Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

Martínez, Soler-Espinosa among coaching ranks

Spanish presence on the WTA Tour isn’t limited to competitors. The project is very much a cross-generational one, with a squad of former players passing down their wisdom as coaches.

Former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martínez is the most high-profile. Having taken Karolina Pliskova to a year-end ranking of World No.2 during their 2019 collaboration, Martínez reunited with Muguruza for the 2020 season. Previously, a temporary partnership had taken the pair to the 2017 Wimbledon title, and getting back together paid immediate and ongoing dividends in the form of Muguruza’s renaissance.

Martínez isn’t alone, though. Sorribes Tormo is coached by Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, who reached World No.54 in 2012. Bolsova has two-time Bogota champion and former World No.40 Lourdes Domínguez Lino in her corner. And Arantxa Parra Santonja, who peaked at World No.46 in 2010, is now working with Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann – another young player currently on the rise.

17-year-old Ane Mintegi Del Olmo stretched Kristina Mladenovic to a third-set tiebreak in 2021 Madrid qualifying.


Photo by Mutua Madrid Open

Mintegi Del Olmo, Bouzas Maneiro spearhead next generation

This week, a squad of teenage qualifying wildcards in Madrid were unable to come away with any wins. But there were still a pair of eyecatching performances against much more experienced competitors.

World No.716 Ane Mintegi Del Olmo, 17, stretched former runner-up Kristina Mladenovic all the way in a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(1) loss. The former Top 20 junior forced a third set from 3-5 down in the second, and led it 5-2 before Mladenovic eked out victory.

Jessica Bouzas Maneiro, 18, had begun 2021 with a 10-match winning streak, picking up her first two ITF titles in Cairo. Now ranked World No.640, the Galician acquitted herself well in her first meeting with a Top 100 player, falling 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 to Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Champion’s Reel: How Sara Sorribes Tormo won Guadalajara 2021

2021 Guadalajara

 

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