The third Premier Mandatory tournament of the season, the Mutua Madrid Open saw its first Romanian champion lift the Ion Tiriac Trophy in Madrid when sixth seed Simona Halep won her first clay-court title in almost two years and her overall 12th. By virtue of her good result, Halep will return to the top five rankings.
Last week's titlist
When Simona Halep entered Madrid, she had a cloud of an ankle injury surrounding her and there were uncertainties as to how it will affect her performance here. Her prior best results of 2016 were the semifinals of Sydney and the quarterfinals in Indian Wells and Miami. She did however suffer a heartbreaking opening round loss at the Australian Open.
She did not seem troubled by it as she made the quarterfinals with the loss of just five games in her straight set wins over Misaki Doi, Karin Knapp, and 10th seed Timea Bacsinszky. After surviving her most significant test of the week in the last eight against compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu, she booked her place in the final with a 50-minute domination of Samantha Stosur. Against Dominika Cibulkova for the Madrid title, the Romanian played a clean match and did not disappoint, producing a 6-2, 6-4 win to claim her 12th career title. It was Halep's second title at the Premier-Mandatory level after winning Indian Wells last year.
Throughout the week, the tournament saw its sixteen seeds reduced to just one in the quarterfinal stage. The only surviving seed is none other Halep. The top three seeds Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza fell before the round of 16, the former two in the opening round. Fourth and fifth seeds Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova respectively lost in the round of 16. Kvitova was the defending champion.
The second-round stage saw the demise of six of the eleven seeds standing, among them are Muguruza and 14th-seeded Ana Ivanovic. The Romanian contingent had a stellar week in Madrid with four Romanians (Halep, Begu, Sorana Cirstea and Patricia Maria Tig) making up the quarterfinal field. American qualifier Louisa Chirico was the surprise package this year as she made the semifinals.
Despite going winless in Madrid for the third year running, Kerber swaps positions with Radwanska for the number two ranking after the Pole failed to back up her round of 16 result here last year. Halep improves two positions to fifth, knocking Azarenka out of the top five. Bacsinszky who made the round of 16 but ran out of steam against Halep returns to the top 10 for the first time since fall last year.
Other players who saw their ranking rise are Cibulkova who returns to the top 30 for the first time in more than a year and Madrid quarterfinalist Daria Gavrilova who moves up from 39th to 32nd. Big-hitting Chirico makes a 54-spot leap from 130th to 76th, thus making her top 100 debut. Moreover, Cirstea returns to the top 100 for the first time since early 2015 at 99th, up 28 places.
The biggest mover in the top 10 is Kvitova who falls from sixth to ninth after failing to defend her title and has her top eight seeding for the French Open in danger. Moving down the list, Svetlana Kuznetsova who was the runner-up in Madrid last year dips seven places to 19th. Caroline Wozniacki drops out of the top 30 for the first time since 2008. The Dane who made the quarterfinals last year had to skip Madrid to recover from an ankle surgery.
Road to Singapore
The race to the WTA Finals saw Halep and Cibulkova enter the top 10 at sixth and seventh, an improvement from 29th and 17th respectively. Samantha Stosur goes up to 13th from 38th courtesy of a semifinal appearance in Madrid. German Laura Siegemund continues to rise in 2016 by moving up to 19th from 25th, she made the round of 16 in Madrid. Chirico's semifinal run in the Spanish capital sees the American vault 77 places to 33rd. Gavrilova also improves her position in the race, going up 26 spots to 34th.
Other notable movements in the race include Madrid quarterfinalist Begu who rises from 89th to 52nd and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who moves up 17 spots to 59th after making the round of 16 in Madrid.
This week's action
The Internazionali BNL d'Italia held in Rome will continue the clay court season heading into the French Open. With nine of the top 10 players in action, they will seek to do well and give themselves one last push before the second Grand Slam begins at the end of the month. The tournament is headlined by world number one and three-time Rome champion Serena Williams who will make her clay court debut in 2016.