APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

Sabalenka bids to extend her reign in the Caja Magica

The Mutua Madrid Open has witnessed some astonishing fight backs through the years and Aryna Sabalenka’s today was one of the most spectacular ever seen in the Spanish capital.

The world No. 2 enjoys playing in fast conditions and on Thursday she proved it in the Manolo Santana Stadium. The second seed came back against the Kazakh Elena Rybakina 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(5) in one of the most entertaining matches of their personal rivalry. The defending champion put on a masterclass in perseverance to move one step closer to her third trophy in the Caja Mágica.

“I was just trying to do my best, trying to fight for every point”, Sabalenka said. “I was hoping that I’ll have opportunity to turn this match around, and yeah, super happy that I was able to do that. Yeah, happy with this tough match and with this tough win”.

The match was a coming together of two opposing forces, with both players on course to dominate their way to the Mutua Madrid Open throne. Sabalenka took to the court as the defending champion, with memories of last year fresh in her mind, while Rybakina responded as you would expect from a player who has not lost a single match on clay in 2024. Hard-hitting tennis was the flavour of the day under the lights of the Manolo Santana Stadium, which witnessed one of the best matches on the WTA Tour in recent months. It was a heavyweight clash in the Spanish capital for a place in the title bout.

At over 600 metres above sea level, Rybakina’s power has an added sting in Madrid. After saving two match points in the quarter-finals, the Kazakh rediscovered the kind of form that has made her one of the most-feared names in the women’s locker room. Her frightening service left Sabalenka with her hands tied, a rare sight at the Mutua Madrid Open.

Elena came flying out of the blocks, proving she was more than up for the fight. Her venomous shotmaking had Sabalenka against the ropes, pinning the two-time champion behind the baseline and dictating the match. In that context, Rybakina was able to let loose, stringing together the last five games of the first set to stamp her dominance on the tie. It was a battle of aggression between two of the biggest attackers in the game.

“Definitely I was struggling a lot on my serve in the first set, and definitely kind of easy games on my serve gave me a bit more belief that I still got some chances in this match”, Sabalenka said. “Yeah, that’s kind of, like, gave me an extra energy to keep fighting and keep trying on her serve to break her and get back in the match. But, yeah, it was very important to kind of, like, get back to normal on my serve, and yeah, to keep fighting for this match”.

Sabalenka’s discomfort led her to switch tactics as she decided it was now time for all-or-nothing tennis. The second seed was determined to prevent any rallies developing on the return, trusting in her ability to respond to her opponent’s serve with pin-point groundstrokes, she was living on the edge in every point. The tactic worked, Rybakina was unable to defend herself against the barrage from the other side of the net. A few errors in the midcourt allowed the No. 2 back into the match. Despite having led 6-1, 3-1 and served for the victory, the Kazakh had now fallen into the defending champion’s trap. It was going to a decider.

Both players poured sweat and tears into a nail-biting third set. A single slip-up now would throw to waste an entire tournament of hard work, but the level of tennis was now higher than ever. Sabalenka’s nerves of steel once again served her when she most needed them. Aryna earned herself two break points at 5-5 which she failed to convert before the set reached a tiebreak where her authority in the Caja Magica finally earned her the victory.

At one of the most prestigious tournaments on the calendar, Sabalenka now faces one of the toughest quests in the game; trying to defeat world No. 1 Iga Swiatek on a clay court. The Pole, a three-time French Open champion, has become the queen of the red stuff in the last few seasons. This is the mountain Aryna must now climb if she is to become the greatest champion in the history of the tournament.

“I mean, it’s going to be great final”, Sabalenka said. “We had so many great matches with Iga. Always tough battles. I’m super excited for this final. Once again, I’m going to do everything to get this win”.