World number two Simona Halep crashed to a shock 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 defeat to France’s Alize Cornet in the first round of the Madrid Open on Sunday.
Halep reached the final in the Spanish capital last year, but looked out of sorts as a double fault handed Cornet the opening set in a tie-break.
And the Romanian’s serve crumbled when serving to stay in the match in the second as Cornet wrapped up victory in just under two hours on court.
Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard’s alarming slump continued as she lost a sixth consecutive match to the Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova.
Bouchard looked to be set for a morale-boosting win as she cruised through the first set 6-0, but Strycova stormed back to win the next two sets 6-3.
There were no such problems for defending champion Maria Sharapova who showed no signs of her recent struggles with form and fitness as she beat Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky 6-2, 6-3.
— Live Tennis (@livetennis) May 3, 2015
Halep’s exit could be a big boost for Sharapova had been set to meet the Romanian in the last four had both women made it that far.
Sharapova dominated the Bacsinszky serve in the first set to break three times and then depended on her own in the second.
One break in the eighth game was enough to set up a second round clash with Britain’s Heather Watson or Colombian Mariana Duque-Marino.
Caroline Wozniacki continued her encouraging form of late with a comfortable 6-3, 6-0 win over Australia’s Jarmila Gajdosova.
The Dane’s conquerer in the final in Stuttgart last weekend, Angelique Kerber, suffered an early exit, though, as the German lost out 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to former US Open champion Samantha Stosur.
There was also plenty for the home fans to cheer as 10th seed Carla Suarez Navarro and world number 20 Garbine Muguruza booked their places in the second round with straight sets wins over Zarina Diyas and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor respectively.
Fourteen-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal will switch back to his old racquet for the rest of the season in a bid to regain his best form.
Nadal changed racquets just before the start of the European clay court season a month ago, normally his most successful part of the year.
However, after losing to world number one Novak Djokovic in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters and suffering a shock early exit at the hands of Fabio Fognini at the Barcelona Open a week later, the Spaniard believes it is better to make a change at the end of the season.
“I’m changing because I’ve been playing for many years with this racquet. I had very little time to play with the other one.
“I know that the other racquet is the right one, and I’ll play well with it in the future, but I had just a few days to prepare with that racquet before Monte Carlo. Even though I played pretty well in Monte Carlo, I know that here we play at altitude and I have less control with the new one.
“I am going to play with the old one until the end of the season when I have enough time to train with the new prototype and time to adapt to it.”
— ModernFurnishn (@ModernFurnishin) April 17, 2015
Despite his struggles this season, Nadal remains the favourite for a fifth title at the Madrid Masters this week with Djokovic missing out to rest up ahead of next week’s Rome Masters and the French Open later this month.
Nadal is also under pressure to do so as he has 1600 rankings points to defend in Madrid and Rome to prevent his seeding for the French Open plummeting despite being a nine-time champion in Paris.
Djokovic has stormed to victory in each of the four biggest tournaments so far this season, winning his fifth Australian Open in January before completing a hat-trick of Masters titles in Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo.
And Nadal admitted that his absence does open up the tournament to those who have pushed the Serb closest in recent months.
“Of course when a player comes from playing and winning everything and doesn’t play the tournament there is an opening,” he added.
“I think that the players that are playing well, the players that have faced Djokovic a couple of times in semis and quarter-finals now have a big opportunity to win a big tournament now that he’s not playing here.
“That doesn’t mean you cannot win big tournaments when he is playing.”
Andy Murray defied exhaustion to reach the final of the BMW Open in Munich and stay on course for the first clay court title of his career.
The Scot claimed back-to-back wins over Lukas Rosol and Roberto Bautista Agut after a schedule pile-up caused by bad weather on Friday.
But the top-seeded Scot was forced to do it the hard way after fighting back from behind to beat world No41 Rosol 4-6 6-3 6-2 in their morning quarter-final, which wasn’t played in the best of spirits.
Playing in his first tournament since his marriage, Murray led 4-1 in the first set before the Czech Republic’s Rosol turned in a furious rally to take the next five games.
The two players then bumped into each other at the changeover which brought complaints from the Scot and an intervention by the ATP supervisor Gerry Armstrong.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 2, 2015
Murray told Rosol across the court: “No one likes you on the tour, everyone hates you.”
The world No 3, however, quickly shrugged off the altercation to claim 12 of the next 15 games for the win in exactly two hours.
Meanwhile, Bautista Agut was also forced to go to three sets but enjoyed an easier 4-6 6-0 6-0 win over Victor Burgos.
Murray was once again broken early when he returned to court for their semi-final, but battled back and broke the Spaniard twice on his way to taking the first set. And one more break was sufficient in the second set for Murray to hold off his world No16 and wrap up a 6-4 6-4 victory.
Murray was also scheduled for a doubles semi-final alongside Dutch partner Jean-Julien Rojer.
Murray will face Philipp Kohlschreiber today after the German was also forced to fight through two tough three-set matches to earn his final place.
Kohlschreiber started the day by coming from behind to defeat Belgian fourth seed David Goffin 2-6 6-3 6-4. He returned to court against Austrian qualifier Gerald Melzer, ranked 186th in the world.
Melzer broke Kohlschreiber twice to take the first set but began to flag and Kohlschreiber battled for a 2-6 6-1 6-4 win in just over one and a half hours.