Australian tennis star Ash Barty has bowed out of the Madrid Open to world number 3 Simona Halep, ending an 11-game winning streak.
Barty holds her position as world No.9, despite losing 7-5, 7-5 to the former world No.1 in her first defeat since Indian Wells.
The quarter-finals match saw Barty struggle to gain momentum, committing 37 unforced errors in an uncharacteristic display.
But Halep counts the victory as a big one in her 2019 campaign.
“For me, it’s a huge victory,” Halep said. “It’s a huge match that I played today. It means a lot that I could win this match.”
Barty defeated Halep on hard court in Sydney in January, but couldn’t threaten her on clay.
The 23-year-old remains confident in her ability on clay. She won her opening two games of the tournament, including a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing of Daria Gavrilova, immediately after her Fed Cup heroics in Brisbane. Before the tournament, she backed herself to make an impact in France, with her usual refreshing dose of humility.
“I think I have the game on clay to be able to do some damage, I just have to continue to learn how to use it properly,” she said.
The competition is the start of the European clay court season, leading into the French Open at the end of May.
The victory pushes Halep into world No.2 while Barty holds onto her 9th placed ranking.
Barty was hoping for back-to-back semi-finals appearances after a career-best victory at the Miami Open last month but a loss may take the pressure off the soaring 23-year-old heading into the next major.