Bencic beats Osaka again to reach Madrid semis

Published by Reuters / Tennismash

Belinda Bencic celebrates her quarterfinal victory over Naomi Osaka at the WTA Madrid Open (Getty Images)
Trailing 3-5 in the final set, Belinda Bencic roars back to stun world No.1 Naomi Osaka, joining Simona Halep, Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens in the Mutua Madrid Open semfinals.

World No.1 Naomi Osaka lost in three sets to unseeded Swiss Belinda Bencic in the Madrid Open quarterfinals on Thursday as Simona Halep, Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens completed the final four line-up.

Osaka, 21, admitted she over-thought about the need to win the match in order to retain her ranking at the top of the women’s game as she went down 3-6 6-2 7-5.

The 21-year-old Japanese was a break up in the final set against Bencic, but was broken when serving for the match at 5-4 as the wind swirled despite the blue skies in the Spanish capital.

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“People have been telling me that if I get to the semis I stay at No.1 so I wanted to do that,” Osaka said.

“I wanted to do that and was thinking about it while I was playing, which wasn’t a good thing. I play my best when I’m calm and today I wasn’t, so that’s the biggest thing I can learn.”

It was the second straight victory for Bencic over Osaka, after the Swiss dismissed the world No.1 for the loss of just four games in the last 16 at Indian Wells.

“For sure it helped that I had played her before. I know how the ball feels,” Bencic explained.

“I feel like people underestimate who are watching on the TV. Her ball is very heavy, you cannot see, but she puts you under a lot of pressure with all her shots, so you don’t have time to construct the rally and to play around.

“(She) was putting me under a lot of pressure and I didn’t catch a very good start on the start of the match. In the second set, I just tried to play a little bit more aggressive, more brave, tried to push her more and go for my shots more. I feel like that helped a lot.”

Bencic will next face Halep in the last four after the Romanian beat ninth seed Ashleigh Barty 7-5 7-5.

Halep avenged her loss to Barty in her opening match of the 2019 season in Sydney and at the same time snapped the Australian’s 11-match winning streak.

If Halep wins the tournament – where she is already a two-time winner – she will replace Osaka at the top of the WTA rankings heading into the French Open.

Stephens comfortably saw off Croatian Petra Martic 6-4 6-3 to set up a semifinal with Bertens after the Dutch seventh seed overcame world No.2 Petra Kvitova 6-2 6-3 in Thursday’s late match under the floodlights.

It was a re-match of last year’s Madrid final, won by Kvitova in three gruelling sets.

Stephens is enjoying a resounding return to form since teaming up this week with new coach Sven Groeneveld, and stopped a formidable clay-court player in Martic, who was 11-1 on the surface in 2019 before meeting Stephens.

“I thought I played well,” Stephens said. “My opponent has been playing well, she won her first title in Istanbul, she’s been playing real good, and I thought I served really well today.

“I made her play an extra few balls. And that was kind of the plan, so I thought I executed well and I’m happy to be through.”

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