Thiem, Mertens and Rublev at the Madrid Open

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Thiem eases past qualifier Giron

Austrian third seed Dominic Thiem needed less than an hour to brush past American qualifier Marcos Giron 6-1, 6-3, while Matteo Berrettini won against his fellow Italian Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-4.

Meanwhile, world number seven Andrey Rublev had to work hard on his Madrid Open debut on Tuesday before booking a place in the third round with a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 win over Tommy Paul, Xinhua reports.

Rublev had problems adapting to the speed on the ball on the Madrid clay, where conditions are made a bit harder by the altitude of the Spanish capital, but is on track to continue his record of reaching at least the quarterfinals of every tournament he has played in all season.

In the first round, No. 9 Roberto Bautista Agut needed three sets before edging past Marco Cecchinato 6-2, 6-7(3), 7-5, and 11th seed Denis Shapovalov beat Dusan Lajovic 6-1, 6-3.

Qualifier Federico Dabonic produced a surprise by knocking out Spanish No. 10 seed, Pablo Carreno Busta, coming back from a set down to win 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.

In the women’s tournament, No. 3 seed and two-time winner Simone Halep lost 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 to Elise Mertens to crash out of Madrid before the quarterfinals for the first time since 2015.

The Romanian struggled to find her game throughout the match, and ultimately 48 unforced errors were the difference in a close match.

“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,” said Halep after the match.

Mertens will play No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the last eight in a clash between two players who have been doubles partners in the past. Sabalenka needed only 52 minutes to power past Jessica Pegula 6-1, 6-2.

No. 11 seed Jennifer Brady failed to make it through after losing a marathon match 7-5, 6-7 (8), 6-3.

Mertens stuns Halep, to take on Sabalenka in quarters

Former doubles partners Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka took contrasting paths to a showdown in the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open here on Tuesday.

The No. 13 seed Mertens came from a break down in both the second and third sets to upset No.3 seed Simona Halep 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 in two hours and 34 minutes, while Sabalenka needed only 52 minutes to power past Jessica Pegula 6-1, 6-2.

Initially, Mertens failed to gain much traction with her tactical approach and Halep was rarely troubled by her changes of spin and depth.

But Halep too was error-prone on Tuesday, and her loss of a break in the first set foreshadowed the failure to press home leads that would ultimately cost her the match.

In the second set, Halep recovered from 1-3 down and broke for 4-3 after a brilliant return game. But the Romanian’s lack of focus returned on the brink of victory. Serving to stay in the set, she committed four straight unforced errors to find herself in a decider.

By now, persistence had paid off for Mertens. Her backhand down the line was finally clicking. Two winners from that wing got her a break back for 3-3, and another pair saw her capture the Halep serve again for 4-4.

As in the second set, Halep tripped up serving at 5-6. With Mertens giving nothing away, another sequence of unforced errors flowed from Halep’s racquet to take her total to 48.

Mertens, who entered the quarter-finals here for the first time, will face another Madrid last-eight debutante, No.5 seed Sabalenka.

Sabalenka was imperious against Pegula, striking 25 winners to 13 unforced errors.

Madrid Open: Russia’s Rublev continues to impress

Russia’s Andrey Rublev overcame a tough challenge on his Madrid Open debut to beat the United States’ Tommy Paul 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 for a place in the third round on Tuesday.

Paul put forth a brilliant effort while Rublev struggled to control the ball in the unfamiliar high altitude, according to atptour.com.

“It’s important to win when you’re not (playing) your (best) game and things are not going well,” the Russian said. “So it’s really important to win this match to have more confidence. I’m happy that I turned it around.”

The World No. 7, who has advanced to the quarter-finals or better in all seven tournaments he has played this season, is now 9-2 at the ATP Masters 1000 level in 2021, after reaching the semi-finals in Miami and the final in Monte-Carlo.

Rublev opened up a 4-2 lead in the first set, but Paul stayed calm. After four straight service breaks heading into the tie-break, and later a 1/5 deficit, the American held his nerve to fight back and clinch the 49-minute opener by winning six points in a row.

In the second set, Paul showed signs of fatigue and, after trading service games, Rublev capitalised on Paul’s slight letdown in energy to break for 5-3.

The third set could have gone either way with both raising their intensity. Paul had a look at a break point at 4-3, but Rublev saved it and then took all of the momentum to break in the very next game. He sealed his first win in Madrid with an ace.

Rublev improved to 3-0 in their ATP head-to-head and inched ahead of Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas to take the lead for most ATP wins in 2021 with 27.

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