The third round of the Mutua Madrid Open features a slightly interesting match-up as the eighth seed and dark horse for the title Svetlana Kuznetsova will go against the rising Chinese player in Wang Qiang, who is having the best season of her career thus far.
The pair has met once before in the past, which was at the Rio Olympics last year. In that match played on hard courts, Wang often troubled Kuznetsova with some solid groundstrokes and even managed to win a set off the veteran, who was Russia’s medal hope in that tournament, but was breadsticked and bageled in the other two sets she lost as Kuznetsova eventually prevailed in three sets.
Having a very tough draw with Sharapova and Kerber potentially waiting in the quarterfinals, Kuznetsova was largely considered a dark horse for the title if results can go her way. Getting past Yaroslava Shvedova easily in the opening round, the Russian had to battle for her life in the second round as Alison Riske put up a very spirited display. Saving a match point in the process, the world number nine triumphed in over two hours and reached the third round.
Wang Qiang entered the third round as a qualifier, earning impressive victories over the past few days. Defeating two Russian players in the qualifying rounds without losing a single set, the Chinese claimed a huge victory over Caroline Garcia, who had excelled on clay in the past, triumphing in straight sets. Then, she followed it up with a tough victory over fellow counterpart and qualifier Zheng Saisai in the second round to set up a meeting with Kuznetsova in the third round.
Wang Qiang is the obvious underdog in this match-up, which is predicted to be a one-sided clash by many. However, the Chinese have the necessary weapons to trouble Kuznetsova as seen in their previous meeting, but the outcome of the match would have to rely on the Russian’s performance. To increase her chances of creating a huge upset, Wang has to ensure the consistency of her groundstrokes, and they must be solid enough to endure a groundstroke rally with Kuznetsova. Wang also has to put more speed on her serves, and serving out wide so Kuznetsova would find it very difficult to return those shots. Like this, the Chinese have a better chance of taking the offense in points.
Svetlana Kuznetsova has to ensure that she would not produce a slow start as it could prove costly, as seen in her match against Riske where she just escaped by a whisker. Her backhands cannot misfire constantly as it would end up with countless unforced errors, which often cost her the win. The Russian has to dictate play at all times and cannot play too passively, taking the offense at any opportunity and also relying on her excellent first serve to control the points in her service games.