By Ros Satar, in Madrid

  • 2014 finalist Simona Halep steams into R16 clash with Timea Bacsinszky

MADRID, SPAIN – Former finalist Simona Halep avoids the seed exodus with a confident win to book her place in the round of 16.

Only one seed was a casualty on Tuesday, as Prague champion and French Open 2015 runner-up Lucie Safarova’s comeback after illness stalled, as she had to withdraw from her match due to illness.

Just five seeds are left in the draw, not that Halep was interested in knowing how the draw was opening up. She might have dropped the first game against Italy’s Karin Knapp, but she roared through the next eight games before Knapp finally held a service game.

After the match, Halep said: “It was a good match but we shouldn’t forget that she was injured, she had knee surgery so she’s coming back. She was not in her best day but still I played good tennis and I tried just to do my game.

“I’m close to that [2014] level. Actually I don’t want to compare my levels. I just want to get better and better day by day, to see how good I can be, to see how many matches I can win. I really want to win matches now – I need them. I just want to be relaxed, I’m not thinking about the results now.”

Halep’s 2014 followed an incredible breakout year where she won titles on every surface, indoors and out. But she acknowledged that there is a loit of hard work required to excel across all the surfaces.

“It’s not about the surface. It’s about the game, it’s about how you adjust your game on every surface and how good you can be on every day. Mentally if you are strong you can play everywhere good.”

This certainly is a welcome sight after a somewhat subdued performance in Stuttgart, where was previously a semi-finalist in 2014 and she admitted that she felt a lot better now, unable to explain what had happened in Germany.

“I feel a lot better but I don’t know I felt so bad in Stuttgart. [It] was something emotional there on court. Yeah I couldn’t explain to myself. But now I feel more relaxed, thank god that I’m healthy and I have no problems. I like what I’m doing now, I like how I play and maybe that’s why I enjoy a lot.”

In a way, with the focus at the start of the tournament not on her, she has been able to play a lot more freely. Of course with all but five seeds gone, she is now the third highest seed left in the draw, but she is taking things match by match – next up for the Romanian will be 10th seed Timea Bacsinszky – who dismantled her in Miami from a set down.

“Maybe a revenge for Bacsinszky [laughs]. I expect [a] tough match. I just want to go on court like today, relaxed and playing my game.”

The conqueror of top seed Agnieszka Radwanska, Dominika Cibulkova survived a real rollercoaster against Caroline Garcia. For a set and a half, she struggled to make any impact as the French woman spun out nine games on the trot.

She said, after the match: “It wasn’t just the first set, it was a set and a half. It was 6-0 3-0 for her so today it was one of [those] crazy match[es]. I think I have never [won] such a match in my career, so I am pretty pretty happy how I handled it, because when it was 6-0 3-0 I was just thinking ‘ok I want to win one game. One game.’ I didn’t want to lose 60 6-0 so that was really really tough.

“My coach came and he relaxed me a little bi he just said ‘I see you are getting in panic, so just play one point at a time and don’t think about the scores. It’s easy to say but to do it actually on the court it’s not that easy but today I was able to do it, so yeah I won so today it just feels really good.”

Stuttgart qualifier and finalist Laura Siegemund continued her great run of form with seven wins in Stuttgart before falling to repeating champion Angelique Kerber, and has had to adjust her schedule accordingly.

This fine run of form is beginning to take its toll, and the psychology graduate is now having to practice what she writes about, as she will face wildcard Sorana Cirstea in the round of 16.

Play continues at the Mutua Madrid Open at 12pm (11am BST).

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