Two-time Madrid Open champion Simona Halep suffered a third-round defeat to Elise Mertens while Britain’s Cam Norrie pulled out after suffering blisters on his left foot.
Third seed Halep won the title at the Caja Magica in 2016 and 2017 and was a finalist again the last time the tournament was held in 2019 but she was eventually worn down by the dogged defence of Mertens.
The Belgian was a set down and appeared to be on the back foot in both the second and third sets but eventually battled to a 4-6 7-5 7-5 victory after two hours and 34 minutes.
Halep said: “She played really well, and she definitely deserved to win because she was stronger in the end. I cannot say I played bad, but I did some mistakes, important mistakes. Sometimes it’s just a little bit and the match is going away.”
A post shared by Elise Mertens (@mertenselise)
In the quarter-finals, Mertens will play fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka, who eased to a 6-1 6-2 victory over Jessica Pegula.
Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenko will face Karolina Muchova in the last eight after beating 11th seed Jennifer Brady 7-5 6-7 (8-10) 6-3.
The Czech earned her place with a hard-fought 6-0 6-7 (9-11) 7-5 win over Maria Sakkari.
Cuartos de final #MMOPEN
🇦🇺 Barty vs 🇨🇿 Kvitova
🇪🇸 Badosa vs 🇨🇭 Bencic
🇧🇾 Sabalenka vs 🇧🇪 Mertens
🇷🇺 Pavlyuchenkova vs 🇨🇿 [email protected] | @WTA_Espanol pic.twitter.com/96JiMnRWOf
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Britain’s Norrie, who was the runner-up at the Estoril Open in Portugal on Sunday, pulled out of the tournament ahead of his first match.
Norrie, who came through a series of gruelling matches to reach his second ATP Tour final, cited blisters on his left foot for his decision.
His replacement, lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka, took full advantage of his opportunity with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Filip Krajinovic.
Third seed Dominic Thiem cruised past American qualifier Marcos Giron on his return to action.
The Austrian, playing his first tournament in almost two months after taking time out to recharge his batteries, eased his way to a 6-1 6-3 victory to reach the last 16.
Thiem told the ATP Tour’s official website: “For my game, I need 100 per cent intensity and 100 per cent energy. I’m not the guy who can serve through a match or who can play with a little bit of intensity and still win. I’m just not that type of guy.
“I need 100 per cent in every aspect of my game. I was just not able to put that on court in Doha, Dubai, or towards the end of the Australian Open, so that’s why it was better to take a break.
“(It was) better to come back when it’s possible again to play with that 100 per cent in every aspect of my game.”
Imagine playing @RafaelNadal on your 18th birthday in Madrid 🤯
Today, the dream becomes reality for 🇪🇸 @alcarazcarlos03. #MMOPEN pic.twitter.com/gAzqSowcF7
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Preparados para otro gran día ☀️#MMOPEN pic.twitter.com/TEo4neA9Mo
Denis Shapovalov’s difficult clay-court campaign continued with a 6-4 5-7 6-4 defeat by Alexander Bublik.
The Canadian has yet to win back-to-back matches on the surface in 2021, and he said: “I started really well. So it’s not so much my game not working. It’s more mental. Like throwing in five doubles in one game. It’s not like I don’t know how to serve.
“I need a beer right now. I just need to just get over this. I’m not feeling too positive right now.”
Meanwhile, former Wimbledon semi-finalist and doubles champion Barbora Strycova has announced her retirement.
The Czech, who reached the last four at the All England Club in 2019 and won the women’s doubles title with Hsieh Su-wei, is pregnant with her first child.
Strycova wrote on social media: “Some moments in life just can’t be planned and I am super excited for my next life role as a mom. It doesn’t mean that I will accept that fact that I didn’t play my last match in front of an audience. Once it’s possible, I will play one last match…in front of you. To say proper goodbye.”
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