Sixth seed Simona Halep, by virtue of her round of 16 win over tenth seed Timea Bacsinszky, became not just the only seed to move into the last eight of the Mutua Madrid Open but the only player to make at least the quarterfinals in all Premier Mandatory events thus far in 2016. Her opponent across the net will be a familiar foe in compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu, Begu is making her second quarterfinal appearance in a row at the Spanish capital.
There seems to be a love affair going on between Madrid and the Romanian players this year. Out of the eight-player quarterfinal field, half of them are Romanians with the other two being the wildcard and resurging Sorana Cirstea alongside qualifier Patricia Maria Tig.
World number seven Halep has experienced an up-and-down 2016 so far. After withdrawing from Brisbane with a leg injury, she made the last four in Sydney, falling to Svetlana Kuznetsova. She then suffered a major setback by exiting the Australian Open in the opening round. This preceded winless appearances in Dubai and Doha. She then made the last eight in Indian Wells and Miami falling to Serena Williams and Timea Bacsinszky respectively. Halep then crashed out in her opening match in Stuttgart, clearly hampered by an ankle injury.
Entering Madrid with an injury cloud, Halep did not seem bothered by it. After flying past Misaki Doi and Karin Knapp with the loss of just five games, she avenged her Miami loss to Bacsinszky by knocking off the Swiss 6-2, 6-3. The Romanian number one will be entering this match-up fresh and ready having been made little work of her opponents so far.
The hard-hitting Begu was on a two-match losing streak entering Madrid and had the weight of defending quarterfinal points from last year on her shoulders. The Romanian number two impressed by scoring her first career top five in the second round over Garbiñe Muguruza. Having beat Eugenie Bouchard in round one, she booked her place in the last eight by coming back from a set down to see off American Christina McHale. In what is her second quarterfinal in a row here, she faces a second straight top 10 opponent as well in Halep.
The first two matches involving both women occured on home soil in Bucharest which held an ITF event. Halep soared through in both meetings in straight sets. Their latest clash came in Hobart in 2012 which went Halep's way as well.
Last year, Begu was overwhelmed by Petra Kvitova at this stage of the tournament, who went on to win the title. Going up against another top 10 star in the quarterfinals for the second year running is not going to make life any easier for the 25-year-old Romanian. She did however show nerves of steel and kept her composure in her upset win over Muguruza. If she does play like how she did against the Spaniard, she could outhit Halep, given she is the more powerful of the pair.
This looks like a once in a lifetime opportunity for Halep. With all seeds out, her path to the trophy has been made a lot easier. Moreover, she has made the final here once in 2014 where she came up short to Maria Sharapova which shows that she has played her best tennis in Madrid before and can do it again. Having been dumped out by Alizé Cornet in the first round here last year, 24-year-old Halep is clearly making reparations and with her hopes clearly fixed on another clay court title, she should breeze past Begu with ease like how she did in the first round three rounds and move closer to the final.
Prediction: Simona Halep in straight sets