As we enter the heart of the clay court season it's time to look at this week's big women's tournament in Madrid.
There are lots of questions to be answered this week. How will Serena Williams play in her first tournament in a month? Will Victoria Azarenka rebound from her drubbing by Maria Sharapova last week. Will Sharapova be able to continue the great serving form that she had in winning in Germany last week? Will anybody be able to see the ball on the blue court? Will the smurfs be the ball kids for the tournament?
The top four players in the world are the top four seeds here, and it should be a very interesting tournament.
Here are my predictions:
First quarterfinal: Top-seeded Azarenka has a tough opening match against Svetlana Kuznetsova. In the round-of-16 she could meet Nadia Petrova, Vania King or Ana Ivanovic. I don't think she'll have much problem getting through to the quarterfinals. There she could meet Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams or Li Na among others. I actually like Kerber to make it to the semifinals, but I think Azarenka will have too much game for her.
Second quarterfinal: Agnieszka Radwanska is the top seed in this section, and to me has a pretty comfortable draw. The always feisty Dominika Cibulkova could give her a little trouble if they meet in the round-of-16, but Radwanska is too consistent. In the quarterfinal, Radwanska's opponent could be Francesca Schiavone or Marion Bartoli among others. I think Schiavone will start to up her game, she loves playing on the clay. However, I still like Radwanska to get through to the semis.
Third quarterfinal: Petra Kvitova is the top seed in this section. Kvitova is the defending champion, and I keep waiting for her game to really take off this year. I think she's the most talented player on the tour, but she just hasn't been able to put it together consistently. She could face Maria Kirilinko in the round-of-16, but I think she would have too much firepower for her or anyone else in that part of the draw. In the quarters, Sam Stosur, Christina McHale and Vera Zvonareva are possible opponents. I like the way Stosur played on Germany, and the way she plays on clay in general. I think Stosur will have a great tournament and knock off Kvitova in the quarters.
Fourth quarterfinal: Sharapova does not have an easy draw, however she seems to play her best when her draws are toughest. She could have Jelena Jankovic in the round-of-16, but I think Sharapova will get through to the quarters. Serena Williams could be there waiting for her, as could Caroline Wozniacki, Mona Barthel, Julia Goerges or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. I like Serena Williams to get through here, but I think Sharapova is playing some solid tennis right now. I think Sharapova will finally break her losing streak to Serena Williams and make it to the semis.
Azarenka vs. Radwanska: It seems like these two have met a zillion times already in 2012, and Azarenka has won them all. They could meet a zillion times more and the result will be the same.
Winner: Azarenka in two sets
Sharapova vs. Stosur: These two played a thriller in Germany with Sharapova saving match point and winning in three sets in a little over three hours. Stosur has only beaten Sharapova once in her career, and nothing will change this week.
Winner: Sharapova in three sets
Azarenka vs. Sharapova: This would be the third time this year that No. 1 and No. 2 would meet in a final. Sharapova finally got a win this year against Azarenka last week, and the tide in their rivalry might be turning.
Winner: Sharapova in two sets