The WTA draw at the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open has been shattered into oblivion, with only Simona Halep, Sam Stosur, Dominika Cibulkova and Louisa Chirico left standing as the semi-finals take place on Friday.
You can watch the Mutua Madrid Open live online from 29 April - 8 May, 2016
It all started in the opening round as top two seeds Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber were both stunned - the former by one quarter of the semi-finalists Cibulkova. Third seed Garbine Muguruza was the next to fall in the second round, while defending champion Petra Kvitova suffered a second 2016 defeat to Daria Gavrilova.
Things escalated even more when the form player on tour, Victoria Azarenka, announced her withdrawal before the third round with a back problem. Azarenka’s exit from Madrid paved the way for the fairytale run of American qualifier Louisa Chirico to continue - and the 19-year-old has made the most of the opportunity, defeating Gavrilova in the quarters to set up her semi-final date with Cibulkova.
On the other side of the draw, it’s been sixth seed Halep who has survived the carnage and secured her spot in the final four. Halep has only needed to defeat one other seeded opponent - No. 10 Timea Bacsinszky - on her way to the semis, where she will meet Australian and former Roland Garros finalist Stosur. Likewise, Stosur has only been forced to beat one seeded player this week, the ailing No. 8 Carla Suarez Navarro, while she also benefitted from a second round withdrawal by last week’s Prague champion Lucie Safarova (who beat Stosur in that final).
The Caja Majica – or 'Magic Box' - in Madrid, Spain, hosts a combined ATP and WTA tournament that has attracted masses of fans in its relatively short lifespan. Both tournaments are the second-highest calibre in tennis rank, and offer 1000 ranking points to the tournament victor. Thus, the WTA's Mutua Madrid Open is a Premier Mandatory event – requiring the attendance of all the game's elite – whilst ATP's Madrid Masters is part of the Masters 1000 Series in men's tennis.
The Mutua Madrid Open returns in 2016 for just its eighth outing, having debuted on tour in 2009. Former world no. 1 Dinara Safina won that event, beating another former no. 1 – Caroline Wozniacki – 6-2 6-4 in the final. Aravene Rezai defeated Venus Williams for the title in 2010, and Maria Sharapova took down Simona Halep in the tournament's lone three-set final for the 2014 trophy.
Petra Kvitova and Svetlana Kuznetsova hold their respective trophies after the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open final. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
The other editions have been won by Serena Williams (2012-13) and Petra Kvitova (2011, 2015.) Each are a perfect 2-0 in Madrid finals contested, with Victoria Azarenka the only other woman to have reached two finals (0-2.) The Belarussian fell to Kvitova in straight sets in 2011, and lost 6-1 6-3 to Serena in 2012. That season was the lone year in which the event was played on blue clay – a controversial experiment which drew mixed reception from fans and players alike. It also succeeded in dividing the Williams sisters. Venus called the move “a real fashion statement and a good idea”, while Serena stated: “No one likes it. I'm on the council, we all voted against it. It's interesting to see that they just did what they wanted. I just wish they hadn't asked us and wasted our time.” No other tournament in the sport's history has ever opted for blue clay, and the Madrid Open's move back to traditional clay set the event back on a positive track.
Serena Williams's withdrawal from the 2016 Mutua Madrid Open due to flu leaves Agnieszka Radwanska leading the field. The WTA Finals Singapore champion has barely put a foot wrong since winning the season-ending championship in 2015 with a title in Shenzhen already to her credit this season, but Radwanska doesn't always flourish on clay and eyes are turning towards other potential champions. Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, the second seed, is on a losing streak at the Caja Magica but comes in with form and confidence on her side after semifinals in Miami and Charleston and successfully defending her WTA Stuttgart title. And former world no. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who has lost just one match so far in 2016 as she won Brisbane, Indian Wells and Miami, has reached the final twice in Madrid. Could she go one better in 2016?
Then there are the stars whose seasons so far haven't been all they might have wished and who are looking for form on the clay ahead of the French Open - 2014 Madrid runner-up Simona Halep and home favourite Garbine Muguruza chief among them.
It will be exhilarating from start to finish. Don't miss the Mutua Madrid Open, live from the Caja Majica from 29 April – 8 May, 2016!
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