Simona Halep faces tricky draw as she bids for unprecedented hat-trick in Madrid

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Simona Halep will be looking to become the first WTA three-time champion at the Madrid Open but standing in her way are a string of dangerous opponents bidding to halt her 12-match winning streak at the Caja Magica.

The world No. 1 and two-time defending champion in the Spanish capital opens her campaign on Sunday against Russian lefty Ekaterina Makarova.

Halep, who fell tamely to CoCo Vandeweghe in the Stuttgart quarter-finals last week, has been dealing with an upper leg injury but says she’s ready to take on the world’s best in Madrid.

“I’m okay, I recovered, I had a lot of treatment coming here, so I feel good,” the Romanian top seed told reporters on Friday.

“I was practicing hard these days. I’ve been here since Tuesday so I had time to adjust myself here, to adapt, I’m all good.”

Halep will face one of two Belgians in the second round, either Alison van Uytvanck or Elise Mertens, before a possible third round against American No. 13 seed Madison Keys.

Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, ex-world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and US Open champion Sloane Stephens, who is seeded No. 9 in Madrid, are all potential quarter-final opponents for Halep.

“Expectations are always there, but I don’t feel the pressure,” assured Halep.

“I feel I’m ready, I feel that it’s going to be tough, for sure every match I will play. But if I enjoy and if I’m happy on court then it’s going to be fine.”

Home favourite and No. 3 seed Garbine Muguruza and eighth-seeded Venus Williams could collide in the quarters and share the same half of the draw with Halep.

Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion, has struggled in Madrid in the past and has never made it beyond the second round here. She has only ever won three main draw matches at the Caja Magica but is looking to finally do well on home soil.

The 24-year-old retired from her opening match in Stuttgart last week, citing a lower back problem.

“It was a shame because I didn’t want to start the clay season with a retirement but I just felt pain in my lower back and I took a few days with the doctor to recover and I’m happy that I’m feeling much better here in Madrid,” said Muguruza on Friday.

“Historically it’s a tournament where I’ve never played very well but I’m always very excited to be back because it means a lot to me to play in front of the crowd. I’m just excited to go out there and perform better than previous years.”

Muguruza takes on China’s Peng Shuai in the first round and could play 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina in the third round.

Petra Kvitova or Venus Williams are possible quarter-final rivals for Muguruza if she makes it that far.

“I think first of all it’s a Premier Mandatory, there are no byes, right away you’re playing the best in the world. There’s a little bit of altitude, there’s nothing really specifically, it’s just something that isn’t happening and I still don’t know why,” said Muguruza of why she finds this tournament so tricky.

The other half of the draw features Australian Open champion and No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, who was handed a daunting opener against Australia’s Daria Gavrilova.

The Dane is drawn to possibly square off with French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the quarter-finals and could get seventh-seeded Caroline Garcia or fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina in the semis.

Ostapenko kicks off her campaign on Saturday against Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, while Svitolina is also in action on opening day against Frenchwoman Alize Cornet.

Projected quarter-finals (by seed):

Simona Halep (ROU x1) v Karolina Pliskova(CZE x6)

Garbine Muguruza (ESP x3) v Venus Williams (USA x8)

Caroline Garcia (FRA x7) v Elina Svitolina (UKR x4)

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT x5) v Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x2)

Tournament withdrawals:

Serena Williams (USA)

Angelique Kerber (GER)

Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)

Laura Siegemund (GER)

Lucie Safarova (CZE)

Catherine Bellis (USA)

Timea Bacsinszky (SUI)

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE)

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