Third seed Simona Halep looks to successfully defend her Mutua Madrid Open crown. The Romanian is tipped as one of the favourites to claim the French Open title this year. This year's French Open is wide open as three-time champion Serena Williams will be missing due to pregnancy. Two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka is another notable absentee, and she will return to competitive tennis in two months in Stanford. Therefore, Halep is one of the favourites to win the title along with former winners Maria Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova and current champion Garbine Muguruza. However, at the third Premier Mandatory event of the year in Madrid, Halep looks to continue her good run of form against 2015 US Open finalist Roberta Vinci.
Vinci has evidently struggled in 2017 with a woeful 6-10 win-loss record coming into the Spanish clay court event. The 34-year-old reached two quarterfinals in Brisbane and St.Petersburg losing to world number three Karolina Pliskova and to Timea Babos at the latter. The veteran suffered a first-round exit at the Australian Open at the hands of eventual semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe. The former US Open runner-up was winless in the Middle East hard court events losing to Lauren Davis and Kristyna Pliskova. Vinci fared slightly better at Indian Wells and Miami losing to Kuznetsova in the Californian Desert in the third round and to Taylor Townsend at the latter in the second round, following a bye. The former world number seven suffered two more first round exits at the new event in Biel, Switzerland and to former three-time Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion Maria Sharapova in Stuttgart. Vinci was the first victim in Sharapova's first match back after a 15-month absence due to doping, after taking meldonium which was a banned substance.
How they got here
The current world number 34 snapped her three-match losing streak in her first round match in Madrid by defeating Daria Kasatkina, which would give the Italian some confidence heading into this second round clash with Halep. Meanwhile, the third seed got her title defence off to a good start by easing past Kristyna Pliskova, 6-1, 6-2.
The two experienced clay courters have met on six occasions with the defending champion leading 4-2 in their head-to-head. Vinci won their first encounter in the first round of the 2012 Open GDF Suez in Paris, 6-4, 6-4. However, Halep gained her revenge in their second round meeting on the clay courts in Barcelona, thrashing the Italian, 6-1, 6-3. Vinci's last victory over Halep was in the same stage in Paris a year later with a convincing, 6-0, 6-3 victory.
Since that lost over to Vinci in Paris, the defending Mutua Madrid Open champion has won their last three successive encounters starting with a third round victory in Rome, 6-4, 6-2 in 2013. Their solitary grass court meeting was in the second round of the Topshelf Open in 's-Hertogenbosch, 6-0, 6-1, and she went on to win her first grass court event. Halep recorded her fourth victory over the Italian in the final in Halep's hometown of Bucharest, 6-1, 6-3.
Vinci has a poor record in Madrid with the third round in the Spanish capital, the furthest she has been on four occasions. The Italian will need to mix up her game in order to beat Halep by throwing in some drop shots and using plenty of slices. Vinci's serve isn't the strongest aspect of her game which will make it easy for Halep to punish, on the other hand, Vinci is an experienced clay courter and slides exceptionally on this surface. This season is most likely to be Vinci's last season, and the 2015 US Open runner-up would love to upset Halep once again.
This is a good matchup for the Romanian on clay courts as she moves better on clay than Vinci, and the former world number two returns well on clay, and she will be targeting Vinci's backhand side which is weaker than her forehand. Halep's serve isn't the strongest but she serves well on clay.
This second round match between Halep and Vinci will be on the Manolo Santana centre court, which is scheduled second, following the conclusion of the men's singles first round match between Ivo Karlovic and Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut at approximately 2 pm local time.
The third seed is the favourite to advance to the final in the bottom section of the draw as second seed Karolina Pliskova's nightmare run on clay continues, falling at the second hurdle to last year's US Open quarterfinalist Anastasia Sevastova. However, Laura Siegemund a winner in Stuttgart, defeated Johanna Konta in the first round, Carla Suarez Navarro and tenth seed Caroline Wozniacki are potential quarterfinal opponents for Halep. Should Halep reach the semifinal, she could face former French Open semifinalists in Timea Bacsinszky and Kiki Bertens along with her compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu, who advanced to the quarterfinals last year, are formidable opponents for Halep. 15th seed Barbora Strycova is the last remain seed in their bottom quarter, but Halep will like her chances to reach a third final at the Caja Magica.
Prediction: Halep in straight sets