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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Simona Halep

Roberta Vinci served for the match, but Simona Halep roared back with a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (2) triumph to reach the Mutua Madrid Open round of 16.

Photo credit: Christopher Levy

An improvised off balance lob from Roberta Vinci soared over Simona Halep’s head settling just inside the baseline late in the third set.

Watch: Bouchard Walks the Walk Beating Sharapova

Fighting back from 2-5 down in the deciding set, the reigning Madrid champion squeezed out a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (2) victory to score her eighth straight victory in the Spanish capital city and advance to the Mutua Madrid Open round of 16.

Halep, who can degenerate into a grouchy disposition when things go wrong, withstood a five-game slide mid-match and showed the power of positive thinking coming back in the decider.

"I try just to stay positive, even if I was down, like 5-2 also in the third set. I was close to lose it," Halep told the media in Madrid. "I just want to stay there positive. It's tough to stay positive when you are 5-2 down. But still I tried just to play every ball and not thinking about the score.

"It was good this time. I don't want to repeat it. But it was a good match, strong mentally for me. I've been strong till the end. That gives me more confidence that I'm strong mentally. Even if I have sometimes downs, I also hit the racquet a little bit today, but was a positive thing. It's okay. I will not be quiet, quiet, but I will be positive, more positive."

The third-seeded Romanian will face Samantha Stosur in a clash of former French Open finalists for a trip to the quarterfinals.

The 16th-seeded Stosur save both break points she faced stopping Mariana Duque-Marino, 6-3, 7-5, in 80 minutes. Stosur

A year ago, Halep crushed Stosur, 6-2, 6-0, in the Madrid semifinals. In their most recent meeting, Halep scored a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 triumph in the Miami round of 16 in March.

"For sure it's going to be a tough match," said Halep, who is 5-4 lifetime against Stosur. "I played against her last time in Miami, I think. Yeah, I was close to lose, as well. Last year I played a good match against her here. I have confidence about that.

"But, like I say always, it's going to be a different match. I'm just going there to do my job, to do my game. I will try to be aggressive, to avoid her topspin forehand."

Halep had not dropped a set in three prior clay-court encounters with Vinci, including a 6-1, 6-3, sweep in the 2014 Bucharest final. But the 34-year-old Italian presented a much stiffer—and at times befuddling—challenge today.

Vinci, who earned break points in all three of Halep’s opening service games, converted on the Romanian’s error, breaking for a 3-2 lead.

The 2014 Roland Garros finalist broke right back then consolidated at love embarking on a six-point spree for a 4-3 advantage.

Firing a forehand, Halep broke again for 5-3.

The reigning Madrid champion served out the opening set at love winning four consecutive games.

Varying the depth and pace of her slice backhand, Vinci denied the Romanian the rhythm she craved. A discomforting array of shots frustrated Halep into errors as Vinci broke for 4-2.

A loopy forehand drop shot sat up almost like a topspin shot. Halep raced up to the ball quickly, but Vinci correctly anticipated the crosscourt reply knifing a backhand volley winner into the open court.

That play was a prelude to a brilliant backhand dropper-backhand volley combination that closed a tight hold for 5-2.

Growing a bit more morose as the set progressed, Halep fought off two set points on serve. On the third, Vinci ran around her backhand and swept a forehand winner down the line to take the 31-minute set and level the match.

Coach Darren Cahill came out during the changeover and urged Halep to play with more energy and patience.

“She’s playing at a really high level, you have to turn it up a little bit, work the point a little harder,” Cahill said.

The 2015 US Open finalist continued to play arrhythmical rallies unsettling the Romanian with contrasting spins. Vinci reeled off her fifth straight game to open the final set. Vinci breezed through a love hold for 2-1.

Dancing inside the baseline, the Italian hit her forehand with damaging intent deconstructing Halep’s serve again. Successive forehand strikes, including an inside-out forehand return, earned Vinci her fourth break and a 3-1 lead.

Serving for the match at 5-3, Vinci tried playing behind Halep with a volley down the line, but the agile Romanian stabbed a forehand back to extend the point then spun a forehand pass crosscourt ending it for double break point.

Moving the ball beautifully into the corners, Halep drew the short ball flattened a forehand winner down the line and celebrated the break with a massive uppercut into the air.

An animated Vinci did her share of the talking during a coaching visit miming her slice backhand as if disaffected by its recent production.

After enduring her own unsettled patch in the second set, a re-engaged Halep held for 5-all sparking a brief chorus of “See-Moan-Ah! See-Moan-Ah!” from Romanian fans eager to help push their player over the finish line. Halep spun a forehand pass holding at love to force the decisive tie break.

At that point, each woman had won precisely 85 points. When Vinci floated a backhand, Halep had the first mini break and a 3-1 lead.

Operating out of the shadows behind the baseline, Vinci was pinned in her backhand corner as Halep hammered backhand after backhand into the Italian’s slice. Drawing the mid-court ball, Halep pounced and fired a forehand down the line for another mini break prompting Vinci to belt a ball in frustration.

Completely losing the plot, Vinci scattered a backhand wide handing Halep five match points.

On the second match point, Vinci sent a forehand long as Halep pumped a fist wrapping up a grinding one hour, 55-minutes.

The winner of the Halep vs. Stosur match will play either home favorite Carla Suarez Navarro or Australian Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe in the quarterfinals. Vandeweghe broke serve five times defeating Stuttgart champion Laura Siegemund, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

Romanian wild card Sorana Cirstea cracked seven aces with no double faults defeating CiCi Bellis, 6-3, 6-2, to set up a round of 16 meeting with Misaki Doi.

The Japanese left-hander backed up her upset of ninth-seeded Madison Keys with a 6-1, 6-2, sweep of qualifier Donna Vekic that spanned just 51 minutes.  


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