Contrasting styles can often make for the most entertaining of tennis duels and Aryna Sabalenka’s narrow third-round victory over Camila Osorio on Saturday was just that.
On one side of the net was world No.2 and reigning Australian Open champion Sabalenka, with her booming serves and massive groundstrokes that are particularly lethal in Madrid’s altitude.
On the other was former world No.33 – now down to 115 – Osorio, who boasts exceptional fighting abilities, supreme movement and an infectious energy.
No lead is safe against someone like Osorio, who stormed onto the scene when she won her maiden WTA title on home soil in Bogota in 2021, when she was just 19.
Sabalenka, a champion in Madrid in 2021 and a finalist last week on indoor clay in Stuttgart, knew what she was up against when she took to Estadio Manolo Santana to face the Colombian wildcard and she had to dig deep to extinguish multiple comeback attempts from Osorio in both sets before punching her ticket to the last-16 stage with a 6-4, 7-5 result.
“I’m happy with the win, she’s a really great player and she fought for every point,” said Sabalenka, who next faces 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva or Australian Open semi-finalist Magda Linette for a place in the Madrid quarter-finals.
“That’s something I expected, especially against players like her. She can return, she can play long rallies, and she can come back into the match. I just kept telling myself I have to go for my shots and I just have to make her move because she’s not going to move all day long.
“Once I will get this approach shot and I’ll be able to finish the point. So I kept telling myself to go for my shots and not to start panicking.”
With the centre court roof closed due to the rain, Sabalenka started with a break and quickly carved a two-game cushion. Watched on from the stands by fellow Colombian, star footballer Radamel Falcao, from 1-3 down, a battling Osorio snatched three games in a row and took the lead in the match for the first time.
The momentum swung back Sabalenka’s way as the No.2 seed regained control of the frame by going on a three-game-winning run herself to take a one-set lead in 51 minutes.
Osorio was in trouble in the second set and stared down a 1-4 double-break deficit, while needing a medical timeout for a thigh issue.
Not one to go down quietly though, the 21-year-old used her all-court game and tireless defence to even things up at 5-all, breaking Sabalenka as she was serving for the victory.
But the former champion recovered immediately, breaking Osorio again for 6-5 and wrapped up the win with a love hold after one hour and 57 minutes of play.
Sabalenka was worried conditions would be different with the roof closed but was pleasantly surprised to see that wasn’t the case.
“I was afraid it was going to be a little bit different, like the ball wouldn’t fly that much, I don’t know why I thought that way because it was the same and it didn’t affect the game,” she explained.
This year, the Mutua Madrid Open features an expanded 96-player draw and is played over two weeks – a change that has received a thumbs up from Sabalenka.
“I really like it. It’s another preparation for the Grand Slam. So you’re kind of playing a 1000 tournament with the same conditions as the Grand Slam, so you can prepare yourself for a longer tournament and an extra day off to manage your energy. I actually like it, that’s really cool,” said Sabalenka, who now owns a tour-leading 25 match-wins in 2023.