Paula Badosa delighted home crowds by upsetting Belinda Bencic 6-4, 7-5 to become the first Spanish woman to reach the semi-finals at the Mutua Madrid Open where she will face World No 1 Ash Barty, who got past Petra Kvitova 6-1 3-6 6-3 on Wednesday.
No mate. I’m not a massive person to go out shopping. I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl. I rotate through [the T-shirts]. Sometimes I’ll go out on a limb and get a different colour that’s not grey, black or white. No, no, none of that for me Ash Barty
In the lower half of the draw, Aryna Sabalenka continued her march through the field, rolling past Elise Mertens,who retired at 6-0 4-0 down, and will meet Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the final four, after the Russian eked past Karolina Muchova in two tiebreak sets.
“I have to be honest, I was very nervous today,” Badosa said after her win. “Because sometimes these matches are a little bit tricky when you played her two, three weeks ago and you think in your head that you have that opportunity to make a semi-finals.
“I was quite nervous, but I’m quite happy that I could control all the nerves and I could play my game quite good.”
Bencic, the No 8 seed from Switzerland was seeking her second semi-final appearance in Madrid but finished with 29 winners and 29 unforced errors, and more prone to the latter towards the end of each set.
Consecutive double-faults serving at the crucial juncture of 4-4, 30-30 in the first set did not help her cause either.
For Badosa, the 2015 Roland Garros girls’ champion, her opportunity came as a wild card entry into the draw and she kissed the clay court in celebration of a win that will shoot the World No 62 up the WTA rankings.
She also became the first Spanish woman in the tournament’s 12-year history to make the semis in a fairytale run that takes her to another meeting with top seed Barty, who she stunned at the Charleston Open in April.
“I expect a completely different match,” Badosa said. “She’s the No 1 in the world.
“Now she knows me. No 1 in the world, they don’t like to make mistakes two times in a row, so for sure I expect a tough match and completely different to Charleston.”
Barty has been praying for some sun and she got an eyeful of it to her cost on Wednesday in her three-set win over Czech Petra Kvitova.
Late in the first set, locked in an engrossing rally, the Aussie charged back for a high defensive lob, which should have been an easy smash winner, but she let the ball bounce, then let it bounce a second time because she completely lost it in the sun, promptly laughing at herself.
Barty took to Twitter after the match to share a couple of clips of the moment, proving she has no trouble laughing at herself.
Chasing her 4th singles title of the year, Barty came out on top against two-time Wimbledon champion and 2015 and 2018 Madrid winner, although she was made to work for the win.
The Australian broke twice in the first set, and after pocketing a relatively straight-forward opener, Barty put a second-set wobble behind, but stayed calm to dig herself out of trouble.
“I think it’s important not to panic, but everyone emotionally has different ways that they play on the court,” Barty said. “I have always been quite calm on the court.
“That’s just always been my demeanour. But for me, it’s more about just trusting myself and knowing that we just keep chipping away and trying to find a way – and then give yourself time to do that.”
Kvitova fought back in the second set with a sequence of ferocious backhand returns that garnered her the first break of the Barty serve, and some brilliant serve-and-volleying underlining her commitment to getting on the front foot.
Barty regained the momentum at the start of the decider after a flurry of Kvitova forehands went astray.
Midway through the set, an unfortunate net touch from the 2019 Roland Garros champion led to Kvitova getting the break back, but Barty did not let that become a turning point, coming up with some spectacular lobs to move ahead again and ultimately seal her fourth match point.
“I think I started off particularly well, and I think Petra struggled to find the court a little bit,” said Barty. “I felt like she gave me a lot of cheapies, particularly in runs of two, three, four in a game.
“Which is always hard to kind of readjust and tactically keep doing what you’re doing, knowing that a lot of the times it was out of my hands.”
The match had appeared settled when Barty broke to lead 3-0 in the deciding set, but Kvitova broke back in game 5 to close to 3-2, and then saved 2 break points before losing her serve for a second time in the set.
Barty saved 3 break points of her own on her way to going 5-2 up, and held again two games later to see out the match.
The Australian extended her winning streaks on red clay to 15, and against Top 20 opponents to 10, while her season record is 24-3.
She has won 5 of her past 6 meetings with Kvitova to tie their overall head-to-head at 5-5, plus she has also now won 11 of the 12 three-setters she has played in 2021.
“It’s just always staying in the fight,” said Barty about her record in deciding sets. “Always staying in the hunt and never letting it slide away.
“That certainly doesn’t guarantee results, doesn’t guarantee success. It guarantees you give yourself the best chance to do what you do and to figure it out and to find your way.”
She faces a rematch against the only player to have beaten her since February, Badosa.
Later, there was more humour as the Aussie talked about her fashion sense after being asked by a reporter in response to the news that Naomi Osaka will act as a co-chair for the Met Gala later this year, alongside star-studded celebrities such as Timothee Chalamet and Billie Eilish.
“No mate. I’m not a massive person to go out shopping,” Barty smiled. “I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl.
“I rotate through [the T-shirts]. Sometimes I’ll go out on a limb and get a different colour that’s not grey, black or white. No, no, none of that for me.”
In the night session, Aryna Sabalenka, the 5th seed from Belarus led 6-1, 4-0 when her friend and former doubles partner, Belgium’s Elise Mertens, the 13th seed, retired with a left thigh injury.
“I feel really sorry for this, and I hope that she will get better soon,” Sabalenka said on court after the match. “Hopefully she will be ready for the next one in Rome.”
The Belarusian was again on song against Mertens, who was coming off one of her career-best wins over Simona Halep in 3 hard-fought sets on Tuesday.
Clearly she was not fully recovered and offered little resistance in the early going, and although there was little sign of injury, she took a medical time-out in the second set and ultimately retired.
Sabalenka’s increased patience and improved problem-solving skills were on display as she convincingly dealt with everything Mertens could throw at her, but the Belgina could not sustain the same level of defence that she against Halep.
“In the beginning it was really tough to play against her,” Sabalenka said. “Because she was using like high balls and mixing it with slice and then try to stay aggressive, so trying to, kind of, understand what she’s doing.
“As soon as I understand what she’s trying to do, I was, kind of, like stepping into the court and try to be, like, a little bit more aggressive and, like, going through the ball and tried to hit heavy shots.
“I think, after first few games I would I say I kind of destroyed her a little bit.”
In the midst of that destruction, there were two moments, and two shots, where Sabalenka showed how sky-high her potential is.
Sabalenka’s first-serve percentage was a shade under 45, but she wasn’t broken once.
Celebrating her 23rd birthday today, Sabalenka is now up to 8-1 on the dirt so far in 2021, with her run to the Stuttgart final being followed by a dominant display in Madrid, where she is still yet to drop a set.
Sabalenka’s semi-final opponent will be Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated Karolina Muchova from the Czech Republic, 7-6(4) 7-6(2) to post a career-best result in Madrid.
“I just found this momentum in the second set, I was so on and focused on every single point I was playing, that I kind of turned off, I think,” Pavlyuchenkova said, in her post-match press conference. “I’m still probably somewhere there, in the end of the second set.”
The World No 41 took 2 hours to get past 20th-ranked Muchova, converting all 4 of her break points and being broken 4 times, while the Czech let 7 other break chances go begging.
Overall, Pavlyuchenkova triumphed by firing 29 winners to Muchova’s 17, while she also had 3 fewer unforced errors than the Czech.
Muchova had plenty of chances but Pavlyuchenkova was able to wriggle out of them, as the Russian played aggressively and came out on top when she most needed to.
The Czech turned the momentum in the early stages of the second, using sturdy returns to move ahead by a double-break at 4-1, but Pavlyuchenkova continually chipped away at that lead, breaking to love for 4-2 and fending off Muchova’s attempt at serving out the set at 5-4.
Muchova had another pass at serving out the set at 6-5 but, again, Pavlyuchenkova steeled herself to draw errors and break serve and it took another tiebreak to settle it.
“After such a tough first set, I thought ‘Okay, now I want to finish the second one, I’m so tired, let’s go home!’” Pavlyuchenkova said. “But it’s not working like this, you gotta work every point.”