Simona Halep handles Sorribes Tormo, Osaka, Sabalenka win in Madrid

Simona Halep handles Sorribes Tormo, Osaka, Sabalenka win in Madrid

Two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion Simona Halep held off a late surge from in-form Sara Sorribes Tormo to defeat the Spaniard in straight sets; Aryna Sabalenka and Naomi Osaka also advanced on Friday.

Two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion Simona Halep survived a second-set hiccup to prevail through a wild first round against an in-form Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-0, 7-5.

The No. 3 seed began her European clay-court campaign with a semifinal finish at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, and after initially leading 6-0, 5-1, appeared on a mission as she held off a late charge to triumph in one hour and 23 minutes on Manolo Santana Stadium.

"I lost a little bit of concentration at 5-1, and then I started to miss a little bit more," Halep said in her post-match press conference. "But even if I was set and 5-1 up, I knew that she can come back.

"I expected a tough battle and it was."

Though Halep made quick work of the world No. 46 at the French Open last fall, Sorribes Tormo looked to be a bigger challenge given her impressive start to the season, winning her first WTA title in Guadalajara and reaching the Miami Open quarterfinals—where she pushed Bianca Andreescu to three sets.

"I knew that she is with very high confidence because she has played very well in the last months," Halep said. "I knew that it's gonna be tough because she likes the clay, and her spin is not easy to return."

Instead, Halep picked up right where they left off in Paris, winning the first seven games of the match and sweeping the opening set in 30 minutes flat with the help of nine winners to none from Sorribes Tormo.

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Down a break to start the second set, the unseeded Spaniard gave the home crowd something to cheer for when she at last got on the board, breaking Halep to briefly find herself on even footing.

The former world No. 1 was undeterred, swiftly restoring her break advantage at love and repeated the feat with a forehand winner to score a double-break two games later.

Sorribes Tormo has already rallied from match point down twice before in 2021 and, on the brink of defeat, snapped a string of 11 straight points and went on a streak of her own, reeling off the next seven points to break Halep as she served for the match and later saved two match points—one on which the former French Open champion broke a string.

Halep ultimately restored order at five games apiece, breaking once more and sealing the contest at love on her third match point. In all, she struck 21 winners to 23 unforced errors—most of which came in the middle of the second set—and converted seven of 13 break point opportunities, while Sorribes Tormo will be left to rue her slow start and 22 total unforced errors. 

"I would start again in everything," said Sorribes Tormo after the match. "Yeah, I think there is something I have to learn. She was better, I think, in every single part of the game, and I have to keep improving."

In the quarter of the draw opposite No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka, who felled her last week in Stuttgart, Halep will next face Zheng Saisai for a spot in the third round.

"I know how she's playing," Halep said, though she didn't remember their two previous matches—both won by the Romanian. "It's gonna be interesting and different, because the first match is always tough. You have to get the feeling of first game. Hopefully I can play my best tennis and to win the match."

Around the Grounds

Sabalenka opened play on Manolo Santana Stadium, backing up her runner-up result in Stuttgart with an emphatic win over former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva, 6-1, 6-2. The Belarusian showed signs of the form that took her to a 15-match winning streak through the start of this season, striking 37 winners to advance in little over an hour.

By contrast Daria Kasatkina, her next opponent, needed three hours and seven match points to outlast Irina-Camelia Begu, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1). Kasatkina and Sabalenka have played at the last two major tournaments and the latter has won both times, most recently at the Australian Open in straight sets.

Reigning US and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka followed Sabalenka and acquainted herself well in her first clay-court match since 2019, navigating a tricky opening set to defeat countrywoman Misaki Doi, 7-5, 6-2. The No. 2 seed will next take on Australian Open semifinalist Karolina Muchova, who knocked out Wang Qiang in straight sets on Friday afternoon.