This year's edition of the Mutua Madrid Open on the WTA side has been carnage, similar to last year's tournament. Simona Halep, the defending champion was the only seeded player to reach the quarterfinals last year. However, this year, there are just three seeds left in the draw with eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, a finalist in 2015 and France's Kristina Mladenovic, seeded 14th, are all looking to take advantage of a depleted draw. Halep will be pleased to be back on her strongest surface on clay courts as the 2014 French Open runner-up is building up some momentum as the Romanian is one of the favourites to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen next month. Furthermore, the third seed will take every match she plays from now and to the French Open, match by match without getting too ahead of herself. Halep is currently ranked at number five in the world but she is looking strong to retain her title at the Caja Magica.
The remarkable story of Halep's semifinal opponent Anastasija Sevastova is amazing. The Latvian had enough of professional tennis with injuries mounting up, and she took a course in leisure management and she hung up her racquet it in March 2013 at the age of 22, however, she returned two years later in January 2015 and it has been a good decision by Sevastova. The world number 26 upset reigning French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in the second round of the US Open last year, and she went on to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the same event by defeating Johanna Konta before an injury intervened, and she was crushed by Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals.
Halep's route to the semifinals
The defending champion has been producing scintillating tennis this week in the Caja Magica. Halep thrashed Karolina Pliskova's twin sister Kristyna, 6-1, 6-2, who reached the final in Prague that weekend. The Romanian showed her credentials of becoming a Grand Slam champion in her second round encounter with veteran clay courter Roberta Vinci. The former second-ranked player in the world, had a three set tussle with the Italian, and Vinci was serving for the match in the final set, however, Halep stormed back and defeated the 2015 US Open finalist, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (2). For the second year running, Halep was paired with 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur in Madrid. The Romanian eased past Stosur in their semifinal encounter last year and she gained revenge for her defeat to the Australian at the French Open last year. It was another test that the defending champion came through, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 to keep her title defence going to advance to her third quarterfinal in the Spanish capital. However, Halep's most impressive victory of the week was over Australian Open semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe, 6-1, 6-1 progressing to her third semifinal in Madrid.
Sevastova's route to the semifinals
Sevastova's run to this semifinal clash with Halep has been stunning. Last year's US Open quarterfinalist has not dropped a set all week. The Latvian dispatched last year's Australian Open quarterfinalist Zhang Shuai, 6-2, 6-4, and in the second round, she upset the second seed Karolina Pliskova. Pliskova doesn't have any expectations on clay courts as evidently, clay is Pliskova's weakest surface, which she struggles on but Sevastova played good tennis to keep at last year's US Open runner-up at bay, scoring a 6-3, 6-3 victory. In the third round, Sevastova was up against Spanish wildcard Lara Arrabuena on the Manolo Santana centre court. Arrabuena had the crowd on her side but Sevastova recorded a straightforward 7-5, 6-2 victory over the Spaniard to reach her second Premier Mandatory quarterfinal, and first since making the semifinals in Beijing in 2010. On paper, Sevastova's quarterfinal encounter with last year's French Open semifinalist Kiki Bertens was supposed to be her toughest match. Nevertheless, Sevastova defeated Bertens, 6-3, 6-3 to reach her second Premier Mandatory semifinal of her career, and first on clay.
Halep and Sevastova have met on six occasions on the WTA tour, and their head-to-head is tied at three wins apiece. Sevastova won their first two encounters on the hard courts of La Palma in Spain back in 2010, and she followed this up with a victory on the clay courts of Bad Gastein in three sets but Halep had to retire at 5-0 down in the final set in 2010. Furthermore, the third seed gained her revenge and halved the deficit in their match in Copenhagen in 2011, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-0. The 27-year-old would record her third and most recent victory over Halep in Luxembourg in 2011. However, Halep would win their next two matches by crushing Sevastova, 6-0, 6-0 to win the title in her home event in Bucharest last July. The 2014 French Open runner-up won their most recent meeting on the clay courts of Stuttgart last month, comfortably with a 6-3, 6-1 scoreline.
Who reaches the final?
The defending champion's movement on clay courts is exceptional. Halep will need to serve well against Sevastova, who plays unorthodox tennis. The Latvian likes to throw in a lot of drop shots, and her forehand is a good weapon. Sevastova showed how good of a player she can be at the US Open last year, and the 27-year-old will be hoping to cause a huge upset to reach her fourth career final. However, this may be a step too for Sevastova as the former world number two is full of confidence, and she will be incredibly hard to beat in three weeks at the French Open.
This semifinal match between Halep and Sevastova will be at not before 2 pm local time on the Manolo Santana court, following the conclusion of the men's quarterfinal clash between the defending men's singles champion Novak Djokovic and sixth seed Kei Nishikori.
Prediction: Halep in straight sets.