MADRID (REUTERS) - World No. 1 Simona Halep's Madrid Open hat-trick hopes bit the dust as she was overpowered 6-4 6-3 in the quarter-final by inspired Czech Karolina Pliskova on Thursday.
Halep, who has won the tournament for the last two years, had looked imperious on her way to the last eight, dropping only nine games in three matches including Wednesday's win against Pliskova's twin sister Kristyna.
But her winning streak in the Spanish capital ended at 15 matches as her 26-year-old opponent continued her impressive form on the red clay having won the Stuttgart title last month.
It was sixth seed Pliskova's first claycourt victory over Halep and it was the kind of authoritative performance that will turn a few heads as the French Open looms later this month.
Pliskova broke for a 4-3 lead in the opening set and although Halep saved two set points serving at 3-5 Pliskova closed out the opener with a love hold. Romanian Halep's error-count was surprisingly high and she found herself under pressure early in the second set as Pliskova pounced to break in the third game.
Halep could make little impression on Pliskova's powerful serving and she buckled at 3-5, dropping serve again to bow out.
She quickly shrugged off the loss, however, saying she would now focus on Rome next week before turning her thoughts to another attempt to land a first grand slam title.
"I'm not stressing myself about the points. I'm not stressing myself about this busy schedule," she said.
"I just want to enjoy it. I enjoy it. I'm looking forward already to start the next tournament. There is no pressure. I feel like it's an opportunity to play my best tennis."
"Maybe I didn't play my best game, but maybe she didn't let me play my best game. She was really good today."
France's Caroline Garcia also made the semi-finals with a straight sets defeat of Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro.