Madrid semi-finals are set as French Open buzz starts to rise
By Ros Satar, in Madrid
- Simona Halep  v Anastasija Sevastova
- Svetlana Kuznetsova  v Kristina Mladenovic 
MADRID, SPAIN – Is Simona Halep closing in on back to back titles in Madrid? We take a look at the four semi-finalists.
Simona Halep  v Anastasija Sevastova
It could have been a tricky match-up for Simona Halep, who has been going through a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions since the US hard-court summer. Having admitted that she needed to shake up her attitude, since she hit the clay she has been a force to be reckoned with.
Hale has won eight of her nine clay court encounters this season, and already the murmurings abound that she could be a force to be reckoned with come the French Open. She is the sole seed standing in the bottom half of the draw, which was decimated by the third round with just Halep and Sam Stosur standing, and Halep sending the Aussie packing.
It is not as though Halep has had a breeze either. She had a comfortable start against Kristyna Pliskova for the loss of just three games, before two very tough fights which really tested her improved resolve on court, but her focus was on point as she broke Coco Vandeweghe twice in quick succession sending the American into a bit of a tail-spin in her coaching time-out, not to mention a pretty hefty racquet break.
By the second set with Halep steam-rollering to a 4-1 lead, Vandeweghe was reduced to laughing at the situation, but victory was Halep’s without the loss of another game.
She said, about her win: “It was very good match actually. I knew what I have to do against her. I knew that I have to play fast, to make her move, to hit from distance. I tried also to be more aggressive from her second serve. I served pretty well. I don’t believe I lost a serve today.
“It was a good match. I was a little bit nervous, to be honest, before the match, because she has a big serve.”
Having reached two quarter-finals on clay in a row at Charleston and Stuttgart, it is a semi-final appearance but a second match-up against Halep in as many tournaments. Having beaten Johanna Konta in Stuttgart, she fell away pretty sharply to Halep in Stuttgart, and the defending champion has looked in very comfortable form this week.
Their head to head is close, but Halep has won their last two encounters, and both have been on the dirt. The final in Bucharest in 2016 was a double-bagel and Halep was On current form it is hard not to see Halep making it a second win on clay in a row this year.
Looking ahead to their match, Halep continued: “Every match is different. I don’t expect to be easy like in Stuttgart. I don’t expect anything. So I just want to go there. I know that I have my chance to win the match. I know what I have to play.
“Hopefully I will feel my game and just doing my best to win the match. I really wish to be in the final again here.”
Prediction: Halep in two sets.
Svetlana Kuznetsova  v Kristina Mladenovic 
Kristina Mladenovic is another player whose clay court prowess has been on show. She started aggressively with a break to start and held on to her advantage over Sorana Cirstea. Things got a little more tricky in their second set, with the breaking Mladenovic straight back after losing her serve again. She would repeat the pattern later in the set, before the Frenchwoman struck for home with the decisive break to ease herself into the semi-finals.
She told reporters: “Maybe what has changed is, you know, that the work I put in over the last few years, now it’s maybe all coming together, becoming more solid. I’m handling better the tactics, all kinds of shots I’m capable of doing, choosing better the moments of kind of displaying my style of game.”
She will face the resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova who delivered quite the win over Genie Bouchard, 6-4 6-0. The newly formed doubles partnership will go head to head for a spot in the final. The pair have only met once a couple of years ago at the US Open with the honours going to Mladenovic in a year where Kuznetsova had to withdraw from Toronto and Cincinnati with a left leg injury.
She said, after her match: “I kind of didn’t know exactly what to expect because I didn’t play Eugenie for a while. I train with her I believe in Sydney a little bit. But clay, she been winning matches, so I want to see how she’s doing like that.
“First of all, I got impression that I could make more breaks in the first set. But some things didn’t work, so I did a good work on my mistakes between the sets.
“I think in the second one, I start to play better. I had more control. I was knowing every time what was going on with the match. And the balls, with the rain, they got a little bit heavier. It was a little bit difficult to construct the points because it was just different. The timing a little bit was difficult, but the rest was fine.”
The weather is expected to be a bit volatile again today, and experience counts. While all the show courts have roofs, there is still a matter of the time it takes to close the roof and for the players to have to reset mentally.
Kuznetsova added: “I was just asking, Please let’s not go to locker room. It takes a while. It was 4-Love. If it’s 2-2 or 3-All, it’s a little bit different. But still I knew I’m in the control.
“That happened to me many times this roof with Serena. It was horrible. It never worked for me. Here I was saying, I’m in control, no rush. Yeah, I mean, the experience probably works.”
A fitter (and maybe even more motivated) Kuznetsova might be a different story though.
Kuznetsova concluded: “Kiki is playing great on clay court. I think it’s her best season in her life, in her career. Definitely she has the momentum. I’m also playing good on clay. So I think it’s going to be very interesting match, something interesting to see.”
Prediction: Kuznetsova in three sets.
Featured Image Credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
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