Simona Halep will play her fourth Mutua Madrid Open final after beating Swiss player Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-0 in one hour and fifty-seven minutes of play. It will be Halep’s first final of the season, where she will be bidding to equal Petra Kvitova’s three-title haul in Madrid.
As she has been throughout the tournament, Halep was focused from the outset. By the time the Swiss player began to produce some of the tennis that brought her to this penultimate round, she was already trailing 2-0. Bencic’s game, with which she became the only player capable of beating the world number one more than once this season, allowed her to level the scores (2-2) with a spectacular sequence of points.
But the world number 3 was quick to clip Bencic’s wings just as she was taking off in the match. “I told myself that I had to push her back so that I could play closer to the service line, and that helped me a lot”, confirmed Halep, aware of the danger when her opponent approached the net, Halep began to move her from one side to the other, muting the effectiveness of Bencic’s shots. Such was the standard of the Romanian’s play in the first set that the Swiss failed to claim any more games before it was over (6-2).
Halep broke Bencic’s serve once again at the start of the second set, to give her a fifth game in a row, and all indications were that the Romanian’s fourth final in Madrid was drawing ever nearer. But, as she did in the quarter-finals against Osaka, Bencic dug deep and found her A-game once more when she most needed it. At 4-5 and 30-30, the Swiss slammed her racquet into the ground after framing her last shot, aware that she had been just two points away from taking the set.
The fans in the Manolo Santana Stadium were being treated in this first semi-final to the spectacle that both players had promised with some stunning tennis. At 5-6, Bencic earned her first set point with a winner that had the spectators on their feet. But Halep managed to find some stunning shots to keep herself alive until the tiebreak. “The start of the tiebreak flew by and before I knew it I was 4-0 down. I lost a bit of confidence then”, said Halep of the second-set decider in which Bencic was more clinical and managed to make the set hers (7-6).
“After the tiebreak, I started to tell myself that the match started there. That I just had to concentrate on that set and not think about what happened in the previous one” stated the Romanian after the match. And that thought translated into perfection on court. “I had to be more aggressive and play further up the court”, she repeated.
Halep then produced a barrage that the Swiss player had no answer to. Bencic tried everything from the other side of the court, but Halep had her sights set on her fourth final in Madrid, where she may not only equal Petra Kvitova with three titles, but also dethrone Naomi Osaka to become the world number one. “I still have to win another match to do that. I don’t want to think about it. To me it’s more important to lift the trophy here than to be number one” declared Halep.
“This tournament is very special to me, that’s why I prefer the title in Madrid to the number one spot. I’m a player who prefers titles to numbers and rankings. But, whoever my opponent is tomorrow, it’ll be a very tough battle” said the Romanian of her possible adversary tomorrow.
That opponent will be the winner of the second semi-final, which takes place this evening, not before 20:00, also in the Manolo Santana Stadium. Last year’s runner-up, the Dutch Kiki Bertens (7th seed) and former US Open champion, the American Sloane Stephens (8th seed) will clash for a place in tomorrow’s final.