APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

Sabalenka territory

If one woman has dominated the Mutua Madrid Open clay in recent times it is, without a doubt, Aryna Sabalenka. Her name appears in the WTA 1000 winners’ circle in two of the three most recent editions. Coincidentally, she had to beat the then world No. 1 both times to get her hands on the trophy.


However, a few months after claiming the Caja Mágica crown for the second time in her career (2021, 2023), she climbed to the pinnacle of the WTA Ranking herself, on 11 September. The move meant that Sabalenka became one of five women to have conquered the clay of the Manolo Santana Stadium who know what it is to be the best player in the world.


The Spanish capital seems to bring out something special in her. Her impressive trophy cabinet contains just two titles won on clay and both of them are from the Mutua Madrid Open. The rest of her triumphs have come on fast court, both indoor and out.


A fine tussle with Swiatek

Sabalenka arrived in Madrid in 2023 having claimed her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open early in the season. However, despite already having a win to her name in the Caja Mágica, Iga Swiatek, the world number one, first seed, and the then French Open champion, was the favourite for the title.


While in 2021 she managed to take the spoils in the decider against the No. 1 and favourite for the title, Ashleigh Barty, two years later she found herself in the same position. Swiatek was on the other side of the net as they battled it out to decide the champion. As if that weren’t enough, the Pole had a 3-0 lead in their head-to-head in clay matches.


But that 6 May, Sabalenka’s luck changed. “I have so much respect for her. She’s a great player, what she did last year [winning eight titles, including two Grand Slams] and what she’s still doing motivates me to improve, to keep working and fighting”, she said after the final.


“Winning this title, particularly on clay, is incredible. I feel happy at having been able to compete against her and get that win, it means people are entertained watching our matches”, she continued after claiming her second Madrid crown.


After two hours and 25 minutes of battle, Sabalenka had sealed the win, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. “It wasn’t at all simple. I was expecting something like that from Iga, fighting until the last point, trying whatever she could to win this match”, she said of the clash. “I’m very happy to have managed the situation so well mentally, to have kept fighting and trying without going crazy”.

Since then, the tussle between the two players to be the dominant force on the women’s tour has been very much alive. Sabalenka usurped Swiatek from the world No. 1 spot for eight weeks from 11 September to 5 November 2023. Meanwhile, on court, they met again in the semis of the WTA Finals, with the Pole taking the spoils that time around.

“Women’s tennis needs this kind of consistency between the No. 1 and No. 2, meeting in finals. I think the tennis is more entertaining for the fans and more intense”, she said of their rivalry. “When people see these kinds of finals, they want to have this battle. It’s incredible and hopefully we can keep doing that this season”.

All or nothing
There is one peculiarity when it comes to Sabalenka and the Mutua Madrid Open. She has appeared in the tournament five times in her career, and her results have either been at one end of the scale or the other, that is, she has either taken the title or failed to progress from round one. She celebrated success in 2021 and 2023, but lost her openers in 2018 (albeit having come through qualifying), 2019 and 2022.

Last year she quickly made it clear where her intentions lay. With a bye through round one as the second seed, she opened her campaign against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea, whom she beat 6-4, 6-2. In the third round, she also got by Camila Osorio with relative ease, 6-4, 7-5, before romping past the tournament’s surprise package Mirra Andreeva in the last sixteen, 6-3, 6-1.

Her first stumble came in the quarters when faced with the Egyptian Mayar Sherif, who forced her to come back from a set down to eventually win 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. “I really consider myself to be mentally strong. I’ve had several matches like this, being behind or even with match points against, and I’ve been able to come back”, she said at the time.

The pressure was cranked up in her semifinal, where she crossed paths with her first Top 10 player at last year’s event. However, Greece’s Maria Sakkari was on the receiving end of a 6-4, 6-1 thrashing by Sabalenka. “I think it’s the best gift I could ask for. I feel very happy to be in the final”, she said the day after her 25th birthday. “I’ll do everything  in my power to be well prepared for the final. Hopefully I can lift the trophy again”.

And that is just what she did, after an unforgettable final to make it 12 wins from her most recent 13 Mutua Madrid Open matches and to become the official queen of the Caja Mágica.