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Ash Barty, left, beat Simona Halep in  Australia in January. Thursday, May 9, 2019, they meet again at the Madrid Open. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
Ash Barty, left, beat Simona Halep in Australia in January. Thursday, May 9, 2019, they meet again at the Madrid Open. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)|Associated Press
Tennis

WTA Tennis Thursday: Abrams picks the Madrid Open women’s quarters – Halep v Barty, Kvitova v Bertens, Bencic v Osaka, Martic v Stephens

Thursday matches start at 6 am EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

2019 Mutua Madrid Open
Madrid, Spain
Thursday, May 9, 2019
Women’s Quarterfinals

Simona Halep over Ash Barty
Simona Halep played her best match of this year when she demolished Viktoria Kuzmova without losing a game in the Round of 16. The players on the Tour have all won matches 0 and 0, but not so many occur this far along in a giant Tour event. Most have come in Juniors or Challenger events, so this was a loud announcement that Halep is playing well and will challenge for this title. Barty does have a win over Halep, when she kicked off her year in January with a straight-set victory over the Romanian in Sydney. But Halep looks sharper, and should run her record to 3-1 with a win here in Madrid.

Petra Kvitova over Kiki Bertens
This match, a rematch of last year’s finals, should be a barn-burner. Both Bertens and Kvitova are playing some fine tennis, and Bertens will be challenging to get her first win on clay against the 2nd seed. Although Kvitova holds a 3-2 edge against Bertens, that shouldn’t matter at all. Neither of them has been tested yet, and the level of play which they are both at now should produce shot making at it’s best in this contest. Neither is particularly quick, but Kvitova uses her lefty shots to give her particularly acute angles that most of the women are not used to playing, although for some reason she fails to use that same strategy on her serve. Bertens will match Kvitova’s power, but I think this will come down to who simply wants the match more. As I’ve been impressed with how Kvitova has played all year, and how she has responded to pressure, I like her to take out her opponent from The Netherlands.

Belinda Bencic over Naomi Osaka
Something tells me that Belinda Bencic is going to pull off a big upset in her quarterfinal clash with the world’s No. 1 player. Bencic came through a particularly tough section of the draw and then just outclassed Kateryna Kozlova giving up just two games in the Round of 16. I’ve watched Bencic pretty closely this year, and she is a champion in waiting. I certainly don’t want to take anything away from Naomi Osaka. She is great for the game. She’s a first class champion, is a great player, is particularly appealing, and represents herself and the sport in a way in which almost harkens back to the early ’60’s with her sportsmanlike modesty. She has been tested a bit here and has responded admirably. I just think that she’s going to run into a buzz saw. And if I’m wrong, so be it.

Petra Martic over Sloane Stephens
In all candor, Sloane Stephens should have no trouble handling Petra Martic in the quarters here in Madrid. It’s just that she’s so inconsistent that you never know which player is going to come out of the tunnel ready for battle. It might be the woman who is a world-class athlete and a truly gifted tennis player, or it might be the woman who looks like she woke up late, ran to get to class, and sat down too late for the teacher not to notice. I think that’s what we’re going to get in this match. Martic overcame countrywoman Donna Vekic when Vekic had to retire at 0-3 in the third, so Martic got a bit of a break moving into this match. If Stephens hiccups, Martic will grab her opportunity and take out the talented American. If the real Sloane Stephens shows up, she’ll up her record against Martic to 3-0.