Madrid | Halep outguns Gauff, Jabeur next…

Simona Halep may be unseeded but the two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion has reached the quarter-finals at the Caia Mágica on Monday with a straight sets win over Coco Gauff, and will meet Ons Jabeur, the highest seed left in the draw, for a spot in the semi-finals on Wednesday.

She’s different [Ons Jabeur]. She’s a great person, first of all, because we get so well together. It’s always nice to talk to her, but every time on court is a big fight, big battle. I’m expecting a big one next round. But I’m here just to give my best, as I said every day. I feel good on court, I feel my game. I’m just looking forward to play it and to fight for it. Simona Halep

Halep, a former World No 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, fought back from a break down in the second set to defeat the 18-year old American, who is seeded 14 here, for a 3rd straight time, 6-4 6-4.

“I think I played very well in the first set,” Halep said. “When I stayed super focused at 4-All, that was really important.

“The second set, she changed the tactics and she was super, super aggressive.

“It was really tough to return the balls, but then I just calmed down and I found the rhythm.

“I adjusted myself to her game, and in the end, it was super good that I could actually push her back a little bit.”

After beating the tournament favourite, Spain’s Paula Badosa, the World No 2, in the 2nd round, Halep won 5 straight games from 4-1 down, breaking Gauff back from 40-0 at 4-2, in closing out her latest 77-minute contest.

The contest was level at the start as Halep, who started the tournament unseeded after plummeting down the rankings last year due to injuries, was not able to break the 18-year-old until Gauff committed unforced errors to go 5-4 down in the first set.

The American, knowing she had to respond, hit back at the 2018 French Open champion by going 3-0 up in the second, before the Romanian, now ranked 21, capitalised on the teenager’s errors to break twice and move into a 5-4 lead.

Basically, Gauff’s serve fell apart after a bad double-fault sent the American’s game spiralling, and the 2019 Wimbledon champion took full advantage by winning 9 of the last 10 points to reach the quarters.

30-year old Halep will have a day off before meeting Jabeur, after the Tunisian 8th seed outpaced Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic, 6-2 3-6 6-2, gaining revenge for her loss in the Charleston final at the hands of the Swiss.

“She’s different,” Halep said of Jabeur. “She’s a great person, first of all, because we get so well together. It’s always nice to talk to her, but every time on court is a big fight, big battle. I’m expecting a big one next round.

“But I’m here just to give my best, as I said every day. I feel good on court, I feel my game. I’m just looking forward to play it and to fight for it.”

Ons Jabeur exacted revenge over Belinda Bencic to set up a meeting with Simona Halep

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Jabeur began the day’s action, and it took her just under 2 hours to get past Bencic, overcoming both the No 11 seed and a weather delay prior to the start of the 3rd set, completing the final set of their match under a closed roof due to rain.

The Tunisian more than doubled Bencic’s winner output, 39 to 15, against her 28 unforced error count, while she also served 9 aces and saved 5 of the 6 break points she faced.

“I came here to take my revenge … I wish I played like that in the final in Charleston, to be honest,” Jabeur said. “Part of me is very proud of myself for coming today and getting the win.

“Belinda is such an amazing player, and it’s very tough to play against her. I’m very happy with the level I showed today, and hopefully this level will continue for the rest of the tournament.”

Jabeur and Halep have played each other 3 times, with the Romanian holding a 2-1 edge and all 3 prior meetings coming on hard courts, including a 6-4 6-3 win for Halep in Dubai earlier this year.

“It’s going to be a totally different match … In Dubai, it was pretty tough because everybody [in the crowd] was with her,” Halep said.

“But sometimes I get the energy also from the crowd, like here with Paula Badosa, so I don’t struggle with that.

“I love the energy on court and I love the atmosphere. It’s good to have people than not to have people, so it will be good.”

Ekaterina Alexandrova won the battle of the qualifiers by beating Marie Bouzkova in Madrid

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Later, 2 qualifiers battled it out for a place in the Last 8, and Ekaterina Alexandrova eventually overcame Czech Marie Bouzkova in a 3-hour thriller, 6-7(4) 6-0 7-5, and will meet American Amanda Anisimova, who staved off a 2nd-set comeback by former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka, and held on for a 6-1 6-4 victory.

Alexandrova’s win over Bouzkova featured numerous twists and turns during its 3-hour and 4-minute running time, as the pair tussled for a spot in their first WTA 1000 quarter-final of the season.

The World No 45 misfired on her first 4 match points before finally converting her 5th chance, improving to 2-0 over the 77th-ranked Bouzkova.

“It was super tough, and she played so well,” Alexandrova said afterward. “It was kind of impossible to finish the points, because she was everywhere. Every ball I hit, she’s hitting back.”

Alexandrova, a Russian athlete competing as a neutral, triumphed in gruelling thrilling encounter after  Bouzkova claimed the first on a tiebreak but then got bagelled in the second set, leaving the pair to battle out the decider.

Alexandrova, the No 1 seed in last week’s qualifying rounds, could only convert 7 of her whopping 22 break points, but it was just enough to get past Bouzkova.

The big-hitter struck 44 winners off her forehand, compared to just 5 from Bouzkova, but Alexandrova had to survive her 80 unforced errors in the match, more than double the Czech’s tally.

Amanda Anisimova upset Victoria Azarenka to make the quarters against Ekaterina Alexandrova on Thursday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Alexandrova’s next opponent is Anismova, who kept her upset run going by beating Azarenka, after the American led 5-1 in the second before Azarenka made a push.

“I think it was a really tough match, but I was playing well throughout all of it,” Anisimova said. “It feels a lot better winning a match with those challenges in the end, as opposed to if it was an easy match.

“Getting through that and not letting her come all the way back, it just helps me with my confidence.”

The World No 33 took out the15th seed in an hour and 21-minutes, dominating the early proceedings before quelling a late charge by two-time Grand Slam champion.

In January, the 20-year-old won her second career title at Melbourne Summer Set 2 before reaching the Round of 16 at the Australian Open.

Anisimova held a commanding 6-1, 5-1 lead with 3 match points in that game, but steely Azarenka won the next 3 games before the American recovered her big groundstrokes and powered to triple match point at 5-4.

Misfiring on the first two, she slammed an ace on her 6th overall to take home the victory and move into a quarter-final matchup with Alexandrova.

In their only previous meeting, Anisimova defeated Alexandrova in straight sets at Doha in 2020.

On Tuesday, the last 4 third round matches take place, highlighted by Emma Raducanu looking to move on against Anhelina Kalinina, and Bianca Andreescu battling against Jessica Pegula.



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