The 2021 Mutua Madrid Open draw has delivered big-name clashes from the get-go, with No.10 seed Garbiñe Muguruza pitted against Sloane Stephens and No.6 seed Karolina Pliskova facing Coco Gauff in the first round.
Elsewhere, No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty, champion in Stuttgart last week, will seek to extend her 11-match winning streak on red clay against Shelby Rogers. It is the fourth time this season already that the pair have met, with Barty winning each match so far.
Both Barty and No.2 seed Naomi Osaka have tricky projected third-round dates ahead: Barty is slated to face her successor as Roland Garros champion, No.14 seed Iga Swiatek, for the first time. Osaka, meanwhile, returns to action for the first time since Maria Sakkari snapped her 23-match winning streak in the Miami quarterfinals, and could face a rematch with the Greek No.16 seed in the third round.
Muguruza has been one of the most consistent players of 2021 so far, compiling a 21-6 record including a title in Dubai and two further finals at the Yarra Valley Classic and in Doha. The Spanish No.1, who has never gone beyond the third round at her home WTA 1000 event, is playing for the first time since a left leg injury forced her to retire against Yulia Putintseva in the Volvo Car Open third round three weeks ago.
She has split four previous meetings against Stephens, whose own quarterfinal run in Charleston signalled an uptick in form for the former US Open champion.
Pliskova has struggled for form in 2021, coming into Madrid with a 9-7 win-loss record and having only won consecutive matches twice this season, and the Czech’s first meeting against Gauff is a promising stylistic contrast. The 17-year-old American, whose own season record is 14-7, will be making her debut in Madrid, and playing her third WTA-level red clay main draw.
The winner of the Pliskova/Gauff tilt will have to navigate a section packed with mercurial big hitters. In another intriguing first round, No.11 seed Jennifer Brady will seek her first win since reaching the Australian Open final against former World No.1 Venus Williams. The victor will take one of two former Roland Garros champions, Jelena Ostapenko or Svetlana Kuznetsova, before a projected third-round date with Pliskova or Gauff.
Meanwhile, two former titlists are slated to meet in the third round, with defending champion and No.7 seed Kiki Bertens projected to meet three-time winner Petra Kvitova, the No.9 seed.
Bertens opens against wildcard Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva, 15, the 2020 Australian Open junior champion who will be the first ever Andorran to compete in a WTA main draw. Kvitova starts against Czech compatriot Marie Bouzkova, and will face a tough second-round challenge in either former World No.1 Angelique Kerber or 2019 Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova.
No.3 seed Simona Halep, the Madrid champion in 2016 and 2017, faces one of the toughest outs on tour this year in her opener. Sara Sorribes Tormo captured her maiden title in Guadalajara in March, and her reputation as a battler has only grown in 2021. The Spaniard has won three of the year’s 25 longest matches and has won from match point down twice, and will be seeking to make an impact in front of her home crowd.