Mutua Madrid Open: Halep puts Bencic into submission to advance to final
Belinda Bencic couldn’t pull off the same trick twice at the Mutua Madrid Open on Friday. The Swiss star let her composure slip away in the deciding set that ultimately gave Simona Halep the win in a 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-0 score on Manolo Santana Court at La Caja Magica. It was the end of the Swiss star’s two-match streak against the world number three and the one that advanced Halep to the final.
This was the fourth meeting between the two and the first on clay, making it a pivotal match to determine who would enter Saturday’s final. The Swiss star had a very challenging match against Naomi Osaka going to the brink of a three-set match that she won after 29 games. With the knockout of the world number one, the former holder of that post stood in her way hoping to not drop a third loss to the 23-year-old. The Romanian had yet to drop a set, taking down Ashleigh Barty, to stand as the best player left to go for the title.
To open the match against the world number 18, Halep responded with a triple break but gave up two to still hold. She added a better service game to come out with a short lead after two. Bencic showed no stress when she returned to serve the third taking it swiftly against the world number three. The 22-year-old added a break back to level the score and get into the mix with Halep.
The Romanian had other ideas and broke back to jump ahead of Bencic with the notion that she was done with the tightness of competition. Halep went on to take the next two, increasing her points streak to eight and won 15 of the last 19 points. Another break of Bencic handed the 27-year-old a 5-2 stance with the serve in her hands to go for the set.
Despite a fight from the Swiss, the third reached set point to smash a crosscourt and take it in 27 minutes. While Bencic didn’t produce many unforced errors, just a minutes time allowed the Romanian to be at her best and concentrate her attack on the service game of the 22-year-old that produced the victory for her.
Bencic lost four points in the last four games making it a real concern on whether she could counter the Romanian and force herself a way to dictate. She faced a quick serve to love from the world number three but surprisingly scored a great one herself to make a statement in the second game. Bencic battled hard to hold serve and went to a short fight on deuce to get it done. With depth being a factor in the match for both, it came down to who was going to hold their ground going forward.
Double faults showed their head for Bencic as she dropped serve in the fifth to bring Halep back within reach. By the eighth, Halep had accomplished that working hard on the serve to pressure Bencic back on serve in the ninth. Holding back the Romanian was the best result but a chance to break Halep and force a decider was trounced to make it five-all.
With little tennis left to play, Bencic was first to act in the 11th where she managed to reel in the serve and give Halep some difficulty to secure the win. The third seed was under pressure to hold the set together and force a tiebreak. Bencic answered with terrific returns that had the Romanian beat but saw her force deuce to get her timing back in order. She got it locked down after three breaks to set up the tiebreak with the world number 18.
The Swiss opened with a great net front touch that dropped in quick into Halep’s court. An error gave her a 2-0 lead followed by a line drive to the Romanian that opened the lead to three. Bencic low balled a shot for a fourth straight point but saw it end on a ball that was long of the baseline.
Halep had regained half the margin and served on the changeover only to increase her opponent’s lead. With just two for the victory, Bencic put the first with a line drive to the far end and gained four set points to win on a crosscourt return that fell long of the baseline ending a dramatic 62 minute duel in the dirt. Bencic knew that she had ended Halep’s flawless tournament by stealing a set to force her second straight decider. Her 22 winners that were away from the Romanian made it possible to stand her ground and go for every point.
Halep had the same agenda and worked the third set to her advantage beating down Bencic through three games. During a coaching call between the Swiss star and her father, the 22-year-old lost control of her emotions and began to tear up on the bench. The frustrations that she let out during the break gave her a short amount of success but errors let Halep force deuce. She found the moment to gain the AD point and take the 4-0 stand.
Halep served comfortably in the fifth putting Bencic down further from any sort of confidence to play for the match with a heavy advantage. In an attempt to avoid her 12th career shutout, Bencic erred just enough to let her concentration subside and give the Romanian her victory in 1 hour and 57 minutes.
Halep posted a terrific run through five matches that moved her back into a chance to retain the number one ranking. Standing in her way would be either Sloane Stephens, whom she defeated to win the French Open last year or go against Kiki Bertens who is a true expert on clay.