There's a sense of deja vu on the WTA Tour this weekend as the two highest-ranked players in the women's game, Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka, face off in a final for the second tournament in a row.
The top-class pair met less than two weeks ago in Stuttgart, where Swiatek prevailed 6-3 6-4 in a fiery encounter as the Pole stretched her head-to-head record over the Belarusian to a commanding 5-2 - including wins in five of their last six meetings.
With that result in mind and given Swiatek's clay-court pedigree, it's no surprise to see her chalked up at 2/7 To Win Match, with Sabalenka the 11/4 underdog.
|What||WTA Madrid final: Iga Swiatek v Aryna Sabalenka|
|Where||La Caja Magica, Manzanares Park, Madrid, Spain|
|When||Not before 17:30, Saturday 5th May 2023|
|How to watch||, Amazon Prime|
|Odds||Iga Swiatek 2/7, Aryna Sabalenka 11/4|
Swiatek missed the Miami Open with an injury, but the Polish player put that behind her once she stepped foot on her beloved European clay, cruising to the Stuttgart title and facing little resistance in this run to the Madrid final.
The world number one eased through opening matches against Julia Grabher and Bernarda Pera. She dropped a set against Ekaterina Alexandrova in the fourth round, but looked back to her very best in the quarter-finals, conceding just three games against Petra Martic.
Semi-final opponent Veronika Kudermetova had a terrible record against Swiatek and duly offered little resistance as the Pole ran out a 6-1 6-1 winner in Thursday's late-evening encounter.
For all her clay-court dominance, this is comfortably Swiatek's best run in Madrid, admittedly on only her second appearance having previously fallen at the third-round stage in 2021.
On facing Sabalenka, Swiatek said:
"Every match is different and every match is especially hard against Aryna. I'm just going to be focused and disciplined and try to do my job no matter how she's going to play or how the conditions will be."
In addition to her Madrid ambitions, Swiatek continues to dominate the betting for the French Open, which starts in Paris later this month. She is just 4/6 to claim a third clay Grand Slam.
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Like her opponent, Sabalenka has made serene progress in Madrid, beating Sorana Cirstea, Camila Osorio and talented 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva to make the quarter-finals of a tournament she won in 2021.
Egypt's Mayar Sherif caused Sabalenka a small scare by winning the opening set of their last-eight contest, but from the second set onwards it was one-way traffic as the world number two overwhelmed her opponent 2-6 6-2 6-1.
Regular WTA bridesmaid Maria Sakkari offered little resistance in the semis as Sabalenka bulldozed her way to a 6-4 6-1 victory and a rematch with Swiatek, in what is becoming one of the great rivalries of women's tennis.
For that to continue to be the case, however, Sabalenka will need to start winning matches and she knows that she's in for a battle in Saturday's final.
"Going into this match, you just kind of prepare yourself for a tough battle, and whatever happens on court, it's not really bothering you. You're focused, you're ready for that, and you're really enjoying these battles," she said.
As the odds suggest, Sabalenka has plenty to do. She faces the best female player on a surface that she has made her own and in a match-up in which the head-to-head is 5-2 in favour of the Pole.
Swiatek was a comfortable winner of a tense Stuttgart final.Bbut Madrid, which takes place at altitude, tends to favour the bigger hitters and Sabalenka obviously likes it at La Caja Magica having won the title two years ago.
The faster courts of Spain's capital suit her flatter, powerful style and while it's difficult for her to hit through someone possessing Swiatek's brilliant defensive skills, she's more likely to do it in Madrid than anywhere else.
Most crucially, the Belarusian is playing with more self-belief and confidence since becoming a Grand Slam winner and she could stay in touch having taken Swiatek to three sets in each of their two meetings prior to Stuttgart, including when she came out on top at the 2022 Tour Finals.
A three-set match is an interesting bet at 13/8 in Total Sets, while these faster conditions give Sabalenka a chance of causing the upset. She could well justify match odds of 11/4 - but a better bet could be to take her on the handicap.
It's worth noting that Swiatek had to work hard to nullify a heavy-hitting opponent in the last 16 in Alexandrova and Sabalenka, who is a 5/6 shot with a +4.5-game handicap start, possesses a similar, if much more refined style of play.
In what promises to be a cracking contest, the Belarusian should at least keep it close.