Madrid: Thiem wins on return, Mertens upsets Halep

  • Matt Trollope

World No.4 Dominic Thiem made an impressive return to the court on Tuesday, brushing aside Marcos Giron to reach the last 16 at the Madrid Open.

Playing for the first time in almost two months, the reigning US Open champion won 6-1 6-3 to set up a meeting with Alex de Minaur, who got past an injured Lloyd Harris.

De Minaur was one of three Australian men advancing in the Spanish capital; John Millman saved three match points to oust Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz, while qualifier Alexei Popyrin beat last week’s Munich finalist Jan-Lennard Struff and will next play Jannik Sinner.

Earlier in the day, Elise Mertens won an intense, physical battle against third seed Simona Halep to progress to the quarterfinals.

Mertens had beaten the two-time Madrid champion just once in five career meetings, yet recovered from a set and a break down, as well as from 3-1 down in the final set, to record an impressive 4-6 7-5 7-5 victory.

“I think I was mentally tough. I made her play a lot of rallies,” said the Belgian, who has won 43 of her past 55 matches dating back to August 2020.

Mertens will next play Aryna Sabalenka, a frequent doubles partner with whom she has won two Grand Slam titles.

DRAW: Madrid Open women's singles

Sabalenka has dropped just 12 games throughout her three wins in Madrid after blasting past Jessica Pegula 6-1 6-2 in just 52 minutes on Tuesday – a performance that saw her rip 25 winners to nine while committing only 13 unforced errors. 

In other women’s results, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova upset AO 2021 finalist Jennifer Brady 7-5 6-7(8) 6-3 in a battle lasting two hours and 46 minutes to reach the quarters.

There she will face AO 2021 semifinalist Karolina Muchova, who won a dramatic match against Maria Sakkari after missing two match points in the second set and then falling behind 5-3 in the third.

Refreshed Thiem back in the winner’s circle

After withdrawing from Masters events in Miami and Monte Carlo and most recently the ATP 250 event in Belgrade, Thiem was appearing on court for the first time since a loss to Harris in Dubai in mid March.

The Austrian had been struggling with both foot and knee injuries as well as revealing he needed time to mentally recharge. 

His break from tournament play seemed to have served its purpose; he needed just 57 minutes to eliminate Giron, striking 20 winners to seven and winning 10 of 13 trips to the net. 

“A win like today is already a big success, because I get a chance to play another match in a top level, so that will help me again for the next weeks,” said Thiem, who admitted his expectations were “super low” entering Madrid.

“I need 100 per cent intensity and 100 per cent energy. I need 100 per cent in every aspect of my game. I was just not able to put that on court like in Doha, Dubai, or towards the end of the Australian Open, so that's why it was better to take a break. 

“There were times in March where I was really feeling bad in general. Even then I had in the back of my head the big goal of Roland Garros. 

“That's where I want to be at the top of my game again.”

DRAW: Madrid Open men's singles

Joining Thiem in the last 16 in Madrid were fellow top-eight seeds Andrey Rublev and Matteo Berrettini.

Berrettini beat Fabio Fognini 6-3 6-4 in an all-Italian battle while Andrey Rublev shrugged off the disappointment of the first set – during which he led 5-1 in the tiebreak – to beat Tommy Paul 6-7(5) 6-4 6-3.

Alexander Bublik upset No.11 seed Denis Shapovalov in three sets to reach the third round, while another Canadian seed, Felix Auger-Aliassime, was dismissed in the opening round by Casper Ruud. 

In a first-round clash between former top-10 stars, Kei Nishikori beat Karen Khachanov 6-7(6) 6-2 6-2 and will next face fifth seed Alexander Zverev.