Simona Halep and Belinda Bencic will meet in the semis of the Mutua Madrid Open after winning their quarter-final ties today against the Australian Ashleigh Barty and Japanese player Naomi Osaka, respectively.
Like her compatriot Roger Federer, Bencic had not set foot in Madrid since 2015. And, also like the men’s world number 3, her return to the Caja Mágica has seen her produce some great tennis. Today, in her quarter-final clash, Bencic managed to beat the current world number one 3-6, 6-2, 7-5
The first set was a tight encounter with both players exchanging blows early on. When the scoreboard read 3-3 however, Osaka picked up three games on the trot to take the lead.
Bencic reacted in the second set. The Swiss was more aggressive on the return and manged to inject some pace into the rallies, earning herself three breaks of serve against Osaka, who appeared to be saving her energy for the third and decisive set.
The final set met the expectations of the fans who packed out the Arantxa Sánchez Stadium. Both players found their A-games as the pressure mounted. Osaka managed to break her opponent’s serve in the fifth game after several points that had the spectators on their feet. At 5-3 down though, Bencic’s confidence did not waver and she reeled off four games to turn the match on its head and seal her passage to the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals for the first time in her career.
By her side, Simona Halep has been unstoppable so far in the Mutua Madrid Open. Today, on the other side of the net she found the Australian Ashleigh Barty, winner of the last Premier Mandatory, played in Miami earlier this season. On top of this, the spoils in their last clash went to the Australian. But none of this was enough to intimidate the world number 3, who won the match that opened the day’s play in the Manolo Santana Stadium 7-5, 7-5 in a little over an hour and a half of play.
Halep made things difficult for the ninth seed from the very first game of the match, in which she earned herself two break points. Barty was struggling with her second serve, but it was not until the third game when the Romanian took her chance to break at 0-40. When Halep had the opportunity to close out the set, serving at 5-4, it was the Australian who clenched her teeth and managed to make it 5 apiece. But the two-time champion in Madrid would have the final word. She broke Barty back and at 6-5, this time she converted the first set on her serve.
Halep rode a wave of momentum from the first set to break Barty’s serve to love no sooner had they returned to the court. Both players then held their serves with ease until the eighth game, when Barty leapt on a mistake from Halep to level the set at 4-4. At five games to each player, Halep repeated her trick from the first set, breaking the Australian’s serve and sealing the match on her own to reach the penultimate round in Madrid for the fourth time in her career.
It will be the fourth time Halep and Bencic have met on tour. The Swiss player leads their head-to-head 2-1 having won their last two encounters. But as the players themselves recognise, Madrid is not your average tournament and anything can happen here. One thing we can be sure of though, is that the fans in the Caja Mágica will be treated to a match between two of the tour’s most in-form players.