World no. 3 and two-time Madrid champion is through to the fourth semi-final at the Spanish capital following a hard-fought 7-5, 7-5 win over Ashleigh Barty in an hour and 31 minutes. This was their fourth encounter and the third win for the Romanian who lost to the Aussie in Sydney in January, snapping Barty's 11-match winning streak and securing the 24th win here in the last 24 clashes!
Serving at 87%, Simona lost 19 points in 12 service games and saved two out of four break points to mount the pressure on Ashleigh who couldn't deal with it in the end. Losing 42% of the points behind the initial shot, Barty suffered four breaks from nine chances offered to the Romanian, spraying almost 40 errors and failing to deliver her best tennis when it mattered the most, despite a great effort.
Simona drew first blood in the fifth game, opening a 5-3 lead before Ashleigh broke back with a forehand down the line winner in game ten to level the score at 5-5 and prolong the set. Halep earned another break in the next game and sealed the opener with a backhand crosscourt winner on own serve for a 7-5.
World no. 3 forged an early lead in the second set with a break at love in the opening game, staying in front until game eight when Barty broke back for more drama, giving her best to overpower the more experienced clay-courter.
The decisive moment occurred in the 11th game when Halep grabbed another break, wrapping up the victory with a forehand down the line winner to stay on the title course. Simona could become world no. 1 again with the title after Belinda Bencic took down Naomi Osaka 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 in two hours and 11 minutes.
The Swiss has been on a roll in 2019, delivering five top-5 wins over Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova, Petra Kvitova and twice over Naomi Osaka who had a big chance to avoid this defeat. The Japanese led 5-3 in the decider, two points away from the win twice on the return in the next game before Belinda held and broke back to level the score at 5-5 and cross the finish line first after winning the final four games.