Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka will meet in a prestigious clay-court final for the second straight tournament after both won their Madrid Open semifinals in straight sets.
Barty stretched her winning streak to nine matches with victory over Paula Badosa before Sabalenka continued her dominant progress with a 6-2 6-3 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Barty and Sabalenka met less than two weeks ago in the Stuttgart final, a match Barty won in three sets.
Also on Thursday, top-five seeds Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev sealed quarterfinal spots in the top half of the men’s draw.
However, the bottom half is now wide open, with all four players remaining having never before appeared in an ATP Masters final.
Norway’s Casper Ruud caused the biggest shock of the day with a 7-6(4) 6-4 defeat of ATP race leader Stefanos Tsitsipas, a result marking the biggest win of his career.
"He is one of the best players this year on the tour, one of the ones who has won the more matches. He's won his first Masters 1000 in
Monte-Carlo. Barcelona he was very close to getting the title there, as well," Ruud said of Tsitsipas.
"Monte-Carlo and here I've been playing really well. It's given me more and more confidence the more matches I won. I'm feeling good, especially here in Europe on the clay. I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and take care of the chances that I get."
Ruud will next play Alexander Bublik, who surprised the in-form Aslan Karatsev in straight sets.
Also exiting was second seed Daniil Medvedev, who fell 6-4 6-7(2) 6-1 to Cristian Garin of Chile.
Barty v Sabalenka, again
Barty’s 6-4 6-3 win over Badosa was especially satisfying given the Spaniard was the last player to beat her, just a few weeks ago in the Charleston quarterfinals.
Since then, Barty has established herself as the WTA’s form clay-court player, and on Thursday she had too much variety and power for the wildcard, striking 30 winners to 15 throughout her 6-4 6-3 win.
"I think a lot of the confidence I've gained this year was from the work that I'd done with my team prior to even playing my first match," said the world No.1, who improved her 2021 win-loss record to a brilliant 25-3.
"You grow with each match that you play, every opportunity you get to try something new or try and rectify a few mistakes that you made in previous matches.
"I definitely learnt a lot from the match we played in Charleston."
Barty will meet Sabalenka for the third time this season, after winning both their Stuttgart and Miami clashes in three sets.
Yet it could be a different result in Saturday’s final, given how irresistible Sabalenka has looked in the Spanish capital, and also considering the fact the Belarusian has hinted at avenging those defeats.
World No.7 Sabalenka is yet to drop a set in Madrid, and the five games she lost to Pavlyuchenkova means she has surrendered a measly total of just 18 games across five victories en route to the final.
"It feels so good (to reach the final). I'm really happy with my performance this week," said Sabalenka, who is now 9-1 on clay this year.
"I think this year in Madrid, something just clicked and put me on the right way. I'm just doing my best. Hopefully in the final I'll keep going, keep playing on this level."
Rafa rolls on, Rublev out
Top seed Nadal progressed to the quarters with a 6-3 6-3 win over Alexei Popyrin, bringing to an end the Australian qualifier’s four-match winning streak.
Nadal will next face Zverev, who like Nadal is a former champion in Madrid and who advanced thanks to a 6-3 7-6(3) win over Dan Evans.
Earlier on Thursday, Thiem survived a set point against the dogged Alex de Minaur – saving it with a scorching backhand winner – to eventually triumph 7-6(7) 6-4.
Continuing his return to the tour after almost two months away, No.3 seed Thiem will in the quarters face John Isner, who stunned sixth seed Andrey Rublev in a final-set tiebreak – just as he did against Roberto Bautista Agut in the previous round.
Like Tsitsipas, Rublev failed to progress to a tournament quarterfinal for the first time in 2021.
And it means that no player in the top seven of the ATP singles race will appear in the Madrid quarterfinals.
Matteo Berrettini, meanwhile, quietly extended his winning streak to six matches with a 7-6(4) 6-4 win over Federico Delbonis.
The Italian, who won the recent ATP title in Belgrade, takes on Garin for a place in the semifinals.