Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova enters this year's Mutua Madrid Open as the fifth seed and defending champion. With 1000 ranking points to defend, an early exit here could see the Czech number one tumble out of the top 10 for the first time since fall of 2013. She was drawn to face local girl and wild card Lara Arruabarrena in the first round, an opponent who should not be taken for granted on the dirt.
The Czech lefty endured a tough start to 2016. After going 2-6 for the first two months of the year, she has since reached at least the last eight in two of her last three tournaments, namely Indian Wells (quarterfinals) and Stuttgart (semifinals). She ended a two-match losing streak on the indoor courts of Stuttgart, saving match points against Monica Niculescu and earning her first top 10 win of the year over Garbiñe Muguruza before running out of steam against eventual champion Angelique Kerber.
Since 2014, Kvitova has amassed a 14-4 record on the dirt. The Czech will look to continue her good form from Stuttgart and heads into this match-up against an opponent who will be determined to put up a good fight in front of a home crowd. The sixth-ranked Kvitova had an abdominal injury earlier this week but was cleared by doctors to play.
In all of her hardcourt events this year, Arruabarrena went out in the opening round except for the Australian Open where she lost to American Varvara Lepchenko in round two. On the dirt, she racked up a 10-4 record with her best result being a finalist at an ITF tournament in Osprey and the semifinals of Bogota a fortnight ago. More notably, she gave Kerber a scare in second round of Charleston on green clay last month.
The 24-year-old Spaniard however has not been very lucky with her draws in this tournament. Her only three losses in the Spanish capital thus far came against top 10 opposition, to Agnieszka Radwanska in 2012 and 2015, both in the first round and to Simona Halep in 2014 in the second round.
Both players have never met across the net before, hence this will be their first encounter.
The match will depend on Kvitova's racket. In Stuttgart, she displayed a different side of her game, adding a touch of variety here and there alongside her powerful shots. If her game clicks, this should be a routine and clean victory for the Czech. Moreover, as the defending champion, she would want to get going and make a good show of herself. The higher elevation of Madrid is in her favor too. The conditions of the court will be fast, making it easier for her to execute her flat-hitting game.
Going up against a top 10 opponent at this early stage of the tournament for the fourth consecutive time, it looks like Arruabarrena is bound for another early loss. In spite of that, as mentioned before, the Spaniard should not be counted out easily on clay given she thrives well on this surface as past results have shown. Moreover, the possibility of her giving Kvitova a scare seems likely and a similar occurrence against Kerber in Charleston could happen if Kvitova is not in full force.
Kvitova could start slow but should zone in and march into the second round without much fuss and begin her title defense on a good note.
Prediction: Petra Kvitova in straight sets