Simona Halep Tames Bencic To Keep No.1 Dream Alive In Madrid - UBITENNIS
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Simona Halep Tames Bencic To Keep No.1 Dream Alive In Madrid

The Romanian is closing in on another title at her ‘special tournament.’

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Simona Halep (photo by Roberto Dell Olivo)

MADRID: Simona Halep is a win away from reclaiming her No.1 spot after downing an erratic Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-0, in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open.

 

Halep, who is seeking a third title at the Caja Magica, was forced to dig deep during what was a roller coaster encounter that consisted of numerous momentum changes. Despite dropping serve three times, she managed to come out on top with the help of 29 winners and capitalized on 33 unforced errors committed by Bencic.

“I feel a little bit tired but it’s normal because she was playing very fast,” Halep said afterward during her on-court interview. “I had to concentrate on every ball, it was tough that I lost the second set.’
“I was rushing myself and I had to calm down and open the court a bit more. I was too far back and couldn’t dominate the match from there.”

Just 15 places separate the two players in the WTA rankings, but it is completely different when it comes to the clay. Friday marked Halep’s 21st appearance in the semi-final of a WTA event on the dirt. A stark contrast to former French Open girls champion Bencic, who was playing in only her second and first since Charleston 2014. On the other hand, Bencic boasted a perfect 5-0 record against top-five opposition this year before today.

It was a perfect start for the Romanian as she broke immediately against her lackluster opponent. However, it wasn’t long before the roller coaster got going. Bencic, who never won a match in Madrid prior to this week, responded well by breaking to draw level at 2-2. Nevertheless, it was Halep who came out on top in the opener with the help of a four-game winning streak to close in on the final.

The turmoil continued into the second set with four out of five games being decided by a break. Both Halep and Bencic were far from thrilled with their performances. Smashing both the balls and their rackets onto the ground out of sheer frustration.

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With little to distinguish between the two, Bencic continued to fight. The Swiss world No.18 was in clinical fashion throughout the tiebreaker as she raced to a 4-0 lead with the help of some errors made from across the court. Halep tried to recover, but a backhand drifting wide placed her at a 2-5 deficit. Allowing Bencic to force the match into a decider with the help of a serve out wide that draw another error from Halep.

Dropping a set for the first time this week, the world No.3 responded emphatically by racing out to a 3-0 lead in the decider. Leaving her opponent in tears as she spoke to her father during one of the changeovers. With the Swiss player rattled both physically and mentally, the two-time champion surged towards the finish line. Closing the match out with a bagel. Her fourth of the tournament.

“I try to do everything I can when I step onto the court.” Said Halep, who is currently coping with a cold. “I am always motivated when I come to Madrid. It’s my special tournament.’
“I’m close to 100 percent (healthy), but I’m not quite there. It’s getting better day-by-day.”

Friday’s win is Halep’s 25th in Madrid. The second highest of all-time in the women’s tournament after Petra Kvitova (29). In the final, she will play either Sloane Stephens or Kiki Bertens. Two players who she has a winning head-to-head record against.

“A final is a final. I just want to be focused on myself as I have been throughout the week.” She summarised.

Halep must win the Madrid title is she wishes to dethrone Naomi Osaka from the top of the rankings. She has already held that position for 64 weeks in what is the 10th longest stretch in the Open Era on the WTA Tour.

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Pliskova And Konta Advance To Rome Final

Johanna Konta edged world n.4 Kiki Bertens while Karolina Pliskova scored a straight-set victory against Maria Sakkari

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Johanna Konta in Rome during the 2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

After a washout on Wednesday and a double duty day on Thursday, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia were bracing for another wet afternoon on Saturday. Eventually, the very cold spell of Italian spring that has so far marred the 2019 Italian Open decided to spare the Foro Italico on the first day of the final weekend and allowed the two women’s singles semifinals to take place with only one very short interruption.

 

In the first match, 28-year-old Brit Johanna Konta came back from one set down and only two points away from defeat to overcome Mutua Madrid Open champion and world n.4 Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. The Dutch woman seemed to be in control of the match after she swooped the first set winning the last three games in a row (from 4-5 to 7-5) imposing her offensive and defensive game over a nervous and tentative Konta, who also failed to consolidate an initial break in the second set by losing her serve for the third time in a row. However, as the match progressed Konta started shaking off her initial jitters and held her subsequent service game with authority. At 4-5 30-30, a shanked smash pinched the line and the following forehand volley winner sealed the 5-5, signing a progressive decline in Berten’s sharpness and aggressiveness. “I think everything was hard today to ignore – said Bertens in the post-match press conference – the court was really slippery, so it’s tough to move on. Especially I like it when it’s not so slippery so I can move a little bit better. With the wind, it was really tough. She played really smart with the dropshots. She did a good job in there. I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But, yeah, it was not there”.

At her first final on clay and at her first final in a Premier Five/Premier Mandatory tournament after her triumph in Miami in 2017, Konta describer her effort on court as a “continuous adjustment, a continuous openness to figure it out within the match. I stayed very open in trying to find a solution in each point […] after I lost the first set, I didn’t do much wrong. It was a very good set of tennis. Equally the second set, as well. There wasn’t anybody putting a bad foot out of line. In the third, I definitely felt that I was able to maintain my level a bit better than her. I think that gave me the upper hand in stringing some more points together”.

Konta will face in the final n.4 seed Karolina Pliskova, who during the late afternoon match defeated Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4. Sakkari started the match extremely well taking an early 4-2 lead, but could not continue to produce the same level of tennis in the second part of the set and was surpassed by her better ranked opponent. “Your intensity just dropped by one percent – said Sakkari’s coach Tom Hill during an on-court coaching session at the end of the first set – that’s the only difference between the first games and the last in this first set”.

During the second set, Pliskova was always ahead in the score, and despite she was the player more under pressure on her serve during the first half of the set, she eventually managed to break her opponent to love on 5-4 closing the match after one hour, 27 minutes. “I’m super happy for this result because I don’t feel I have been playing my best tennis – said Pliskova after the match – coming into this week I felt I would probably win one match, possibly two, I’m very confident for Paris now”.

The head-to-head between Pliskova and Konta see the Czech having won four of the previous five matches at WTA level, plus further two at ITF level. The only win for Konta came in Beijing in 2016, when the Brit reached her first Premier Mandatory final.

 

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Johanna Konta Reaches Biggest Semi-Final Since 2017

Johanna Konta advanced to her first semi-final in Rome by beating Vondrousova in three sets, while Pliskova beat Azarenka.

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Johanna Konta (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

Johanna Konta will contest the biggest match of her career since Wimbledon 2017 when she takes on Kiki Bertens in the semi-final of the Italian Open.

 

The Brit, who is celebrating her 28th birthday today, looked in excellent form during her 6-3 3-6 6-1 victory over rising star Marketa Vondrousova and she fully deserves her place in the last four.

Konta’s win seems even more impressive when you consider the two players the Czech, 19, beat to reach the quarter-final stage: Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina.

With those scalps under her belt, Vondrousova would surely have fancied her chances against the Brit. However, that confidence quickly eroded after the World No.42 controlled the opening set.

Konta made a great start. She hit a series of deep backhands which pushed the Czech back as she almost got an immediate break.

Although Vondrousova held on, the Brit then earned three more chances in game three. She took the second to move into a 2-1 lead.

Konta dominated her service games to maintain her advantage for the rest of the set, and then broke the Czech again in game nine to clinch it.

To Vondrousova’s credit, she fought back well in the second set and eventually won it 6-3. However, the Brit knew what to do in the decider. She stepped into the court and attacked anything short. This enabled her to win six games in a row and seal her spot in the semi-final.

Azarenka’s impressive run comes to an end

Karolina Pliskova (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

It has been a brilliant week in Rome for Victoria Azarenka, but her participation in the singles event is now over after a 6-7(5) 6-2 6-2 loss to Karolina Pliskova.

The Belarussian, 29, impressed during her three-set win over another top ten player – Elina Svitolina – in the second round, but she could not repeat the feat against the World No.7.

For Pliskova, the match against Azarenka represented a significant hurdle to negotiate. But she responded superbly to losing the first set by raising her game considerably to win the next two.

“Azarenka was playing good tennis today. She wasn’t missing much,” the Czech said in her press conference.

She continued, “It was a little bit windy, so I didn’t feel at my best in the first set. I don’t think my level was that bad, but I was too passive. To begin with, I wanted to kill myself after that set. Then I calmed down a bit and went for my shots a little bit more, which paid off.”

Pliskova’s reward will be a semi-final against either Maria Sakkari or Kristina Mladenovic. If it is the Greek, it will bring back memories of their encounter last year when the Czech famously lost her temper and damaged the umpire’s chair.

“I haven’t played Sakkari since Rome last year, so I think everybody is going to be waiting for this match – even me,” the World No.7 said. “The rematch has almost happened in a couple of tournaments recently, but she always lost before. I think she was scared to face me!”

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Kiki Bertens receives a walkover into the semifinal, as Naomi Osaka withdraws from the quarter final due to a right hand injury

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Last week’s Madrid Mutua Open champion Kiki Bertens overcame 2015 Rome finalist Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4 1-6 6-3 after 1 hour and 49 minutes to extend her winning streak to eight consecutive matches.

 

A rain wash-out on Wednesday forced Bertens to postpone her Rome campaign until Thursday and play two matches to advance to the quarter final.

Bertens overcame Amanda Anisimova 6-2 4-6 7-5 after being just two points from defeat in her first Thursday match before surviving another three-set battle against Carla Suarez Navarro.

Bertens went up a double break to take a 3-0 lead and held on her service games to seal the opening set on her fourth set point.

Suarez Navarro broke serve twice to clinch the second set 6-1 forcing the match to the third set.

Bertens broke twice in a row to race out to a 4-0 lead in the  decisive set. Suarez Navarro pulled one of the two breaks back. Bertens held on her next service games to seal the win to secure her spot in the quarter final.

“It was only fight today that got me through. It wasn’t the best tennis, but sometimes that happens where you just have to find a way. Luckily I found it. I got to hit yesterday morning because I was first on, so at 9 AM, I warmed up until 9.30, when I thought that maybe we will be able to go on court, but it did not happen. I was on site from 8 AM to 6 PM, so it was a long day, but for everyone. This morning I saw the schedule for 10 AM, so the alarm went off at 6.30. Not my best morning. After the first match, I felt more mentally fatigued, but a long second match, you feel it physically”, said Bertens.

The Dutch player has received a walkover into the semifinal after her quarter final rival Naomi Osaka was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to a right hand injury. Osaka also had to pull out of the Stuttgart Open because of an abdominal problem, but she reached the biggest clay quarter final of her career in Madrid, where she served for the match, but she lost to Belinda Bencic 3-6 6-2 7-5.

 

 

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