It’s a huge ask, but if anyone can navigate the treacherous triple on outdoor European red clay, it’s Iga Swiatek.

She’s already won twice in Rome and three times at Roland Garros, but the 22-year-old from Poland was missing a Madrid title on her burgeoning resume. Swiatek checked that box this past weekend with a fabulous 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(7) victory over Aryna Sabalenka.

“For sure it’s good to have it on your Wikipedia, and you guys have been asking for that, so here you go,” Swiatek told reporters. “Doesn’t matter for me if I won it before or not. I try to win each tournament that I play.”

Which begs this question: Can Swiatek possibly recover and win the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, which begins play Tuesday, and follow that up at the French Open? Of course she can. Swiatek won both those tournaments in 2022.

Considering Sabalenka’s confidence and comfort in the thin air of Madrid, this was a notable accomplishment. Afterward, Sabalenka said the level of play was “much higher” than it was in last year’s final — a three-set Sabalenka win over Swiatek.

Swiatek showed a lot of mental fortitude, saving three match points. And for those wondering if she’s up to the Rome-Paris challenge, she hasn’t lost a match on clay after winning the first set — in more than five years.

It’s clear that Sabalenka’s relentless intensity pushed the World No.1 to be even better.

“I think actually for most of the match, she played more, how to say it, courageous,” Swiatek said. “I was sometimes a little bit back. So at the end, I just wanted to not do that and to also be courageous.”

Swiatek is not the only lead headline in Rome. Here are a few more compelling storylines to consider:

Another milestone for Sabalenka

She celebrated her 26th birthday with an early flight to Rome on Sunday, followed by, well …

“The first thing comes to my mind, I’m ready for pasta,” Sabalenka said in Madrid, echoing the thoughts of reporters. “Pasta, pizza, and lots of gelato. I have a couple extra days to recover, to enjoy Rome, to enjoy everything what I’m not able to eat during the tournament.”

While the atmosphere at Foro Italico is a little slower than she would like, Sabalenka managed to reach the semifinals there two years ago. After winning the Madrid title a year ago, though, she lost her first match to Sofia Kenin. Sabalenka will be keen to erase that memory.

Champions Reel: How Iga Swiatek won Madrid 2024

Rybakina defending her title

Lost in the fireworks of that Madrid final was another terrific outing for Rybakina. She won the first set of her semifinal against Sabalenka but wound up losing 1-6, 7-5, 7-6(5). That ended her run of 16 straight clay-court wins.

Part of that streak included six wins a year ago in Rome. It was an odd journey to the title, as three players — Anna Kalinskaya, Swiatek and Anhelina Kalinina — all retired from their matches against Rybakina.

She was fortunate in terms of the weather, too.

“I’m struggling usually with allergies exactly in Rome, and last year I was very lucky with the rain,” she said. “Hopefully I’m going to be same lucky and feel good in Rome.”

For the record: The 10-day forecast for Rome does not show a speck of rain.

Is Ons back?

In Madrid, Ons Jabeur showed flashes of the form that landed her in three Grand Slam singles finals inside two years. She defeated Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Leylah Fernandez and Jelena Ostapenko. In the quarterfinals, she took the first set from Madison Keys 6-0, but fell in three sets.

Jabeur, who came into the tournament with three wins for the season, hadn’t won three straight matches since last September, on the way to the title in Ningbo, China.

“What a great feeling, huh?” she said with characteristic sarcasm. “You miss it sometimes, but I’m very proud that I stayed patient, because the level of the training that I have been having since Miami is unbelievable.

“I basically wasn’t losing any, like, practice sets. I was playing amazing and just wasn’t there. But I’m glad that I kept believing in myself and kept saying it’s going to come one day or another.”

History in Rome

Jabeur is one of eight players ranked among the Hologic WTA Tour Top 10 who has been to at least the semifinals in Rome.

In addition to her, Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina, the list: Coco Gauff (2021 semifinals), Marketa Vondrousova (2020 semifinals), Maria Sakkari (2019 semifinals) and Jelena Ostapenko (2023 semifinals).

She’s just 17

The surprise of the 2023 Madrid event? Mirra Andreeva, only 16, reached the fourth round before falling to eventual champion Sabalenka.

This year it made sense when she pushed through to the quarterfinals. It was one stage further, but the same result — a straight-sets loss to Sabalenka.

“Well, at least I won one more game than last year,” Andreeva said. “That’s maybe a good thing.”

Now teamed with coach Conchita Martinez (who won four straight tiles in Rome from 1993-96), Andreeva will have the opportunity to play more matches after turning 17 — the same day she beat Jasmine Paolini to reach those quarters.

Serious qualifications

Ashlyn Krueger, at No.70, was the last player into the main draw. The first three qualifying seeds: Jaqueline Cristian, Oceane Dodin and Viktorija Golubic. Qualifying begins Monday.

Cristian made a stirring run in Charleston, beating Top 20 players Madison Keys and Emma Navarro on the way to the quarters. Including qualifying, Dodin won three matches in Miami before falling to Coco Gauff. Golubic beat Top 50 players Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova at the Australian Open before losing to Elina Svitolina.


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