Thursday in Madrid got off to a quick start with Muguruza, Bacsinszky and Begu emerging as early winners on Pietrangeli, Grandstand and Court One — René Denfeld recaps the victories of the first quarterfinalists at the Foro Italico and what they had to say after their wins.
On a day packed with third-round matches, it was women's turn to serve first, with third seed Garbine Muguruza taking on Jelena Ostapenko on Court Pietrangeli, Daria Kasatkina facing Irina-Camelia Begu on Court 1 and Timea Bacsinszky playing against Carla Suarez Navarro on Grandstand.
The first player to wrap up her match was Garbine Muguruza — the Spaniard made very light work of Ostapenko in the opening set, but for large parts of the second set it didn't look as though the world number three was going to have an easy ride to the finish line.
The Latvian started producing some of the smooth and clean hitting that got her all the way into the Doha finals a couple of months ago, leading the Spaniard 4-1 at one point, but things started unraveling from then on for Ostapenko and Muguruza was able to pick up where she left off, closing out the encounter by virtue of winning the final five games on the trot.
The 2015 Wimbledon finalist has started the year off on a bad foot — quite literally — but she's slowly finding her groove a little more on the clay with more reliable results.
"I'm not trying to change anything. Just, as always, practice, go to the match, do everything I can. So I did the same in a previous tournament, so maybe here, I don't know, I found my game a little bit more, but not really changing anything," Muguruza explained afterwards.
"But, yeah, I'm just looking forward to play as many matches I can. That's going to help me. The matches I played, really, the other ones are playing very well the last previous matches I had, so I guess — I guess that's good."
In her quarterfinal Muguruza is going to face Timea Bacsinszky, who fought past Carla Suarez Navarro in exactly the difficult and long kind of clay court match Bacsinszky herself expected. Both players were trading blows, angles and drop shots throughout the encounter and although Suarez Navarro served for the match, Bacsinszky stole it away after breaking her opponent twice in a row, courtesy some of her trademark backhand zingers.
"I'm really proud of today's match. It helps that I'm really well-prepared thanks to my physio, but I think it was a high level in the first two sets, we both had little dips here and there but tennis and tactics-wise is was great," the Swiss said after her match.
"It will be completely different," Bacsinszky said previewing her quarterfinal against Muguruza. "She's playing a completely different tennis, but first I want to enjoy today's victory and will be focusing on tomorrow's match later."
In the other opening match, Irina-Camelia Begu kept her clay streak rolling after a great Madrid tournament, getting out of the starting blocks quickly to defeat Daria Kasatkina 6-1 6-4 — but the Romanian had to hold off a late charge by the Russian teenager, who almost leveled the match.
Begu's year had started with a number of knee issues that made it difficult for her to perform well at the beginning of 2016, but the Romanian has really started hitting her stride on the European clay this season.
"I'm really happy, in two weeks, two wins against top players, clay is my favorite surface and these tournaments are really special for me," Begu explained the other day.
"Yeah, it was a tough injury for me, when I started the season in Shenzhen, in the second round I had some problems with my knee and I didn't know exactly what I had — I had to retire form Sydney and then I played Australian Open and I didn't know exactly what was happening. Then I went back home and knew what I had and what I had to do. So I took a bit like, almost two months. I'm happy that I'm healthy now — I can play my best tennis."
Begu lost her previous match against Kasatkina in Moscow in 2015, but was able to get her revenge in Rome.
"She's really young, coming up like you said, we've played last year in Moscow, it was a tough match, I lost in three sets, so it was going to be difficult match and I had to be focused."
In a surprise quarterfinal, Begu will be facing Misaki Doi for a spot in the semis. The Japanese was able to get over the finish line against Johanna Konta in a topsy-turvy match, almost losing a 5-2 lead in the second set, but ultimately she was able to dictate the decider with her signature lefty forehand, breaking Konta for the match.