Sharapova lost in three sets to Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands. Photo: Kiko Huesca/EPA

MADRID – Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep continued the flurry of big-name casualties at the Madrid Open on Thursday as both crashed out in the quarter-finals.

Sharapova lost in three sets to Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands while Halep, the champion in 2016 and 2017, was blown away by Karolina Pliskova.

It means Pliskova, the sixth seed, is the highest ranked player left in the women's draw after Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and Jelena Ostapenko all lost earlier in the week.

Pliskova's 6-4, 6-3 win means she will play either two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or the talented Russian Daria Kasatkina for a place in the final on Saturday.

“Even in the warm-up I felt so good today,” Pliskova said. I think I played one of my best matches this year for sure, and for sure on clay in my life.”

Halep said: “Today she didn't miss. I didn't play badly in my opinion. I missed in some important moments, that's why it went her way but I'm not very disappointed about this match. She deserved to win.” 

Romania's Simona Halep in action against Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova on Thursday. Photo: Mariscal/EPA
Romania's Simona Halep in action against Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova on Thursday. Photo: Mariscal/EPA

Sharapova is set to climb inside the top 40 next week and the 31-year-old will be encouraged by her week's work in the Spanish capital, where she showed signs she is finding her rhythm. 

The Russian arrived on the back of four consecutive defeats but three victories and a narrow 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss to Bertens suggests she could be a threat at the French Open later this month. 

“It was great to get those wins against those players,” said Sharapova, the 2014 champion in Madrid. “But there's a reason I came up short today. You also want to evaluate that and go back to the drawing board and start over again.”

Bertens, meanwhile, will now face France's Caroline Garcia, who eased past Carla Suarez Navarro 6-2, 6-3.

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In the men's draw, Juan Martin del Porto led 4-0 in a third-set tie-break but still lost to Serbian qualifier Dusan Lajovic. 
 
Lajovic gave up a break in the deciding set and made a nightmare start in the tie-break but came from behind to win 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8/6).

He will now face South Africa's Kevin Anderson, who overcame Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Novak Djokovic's conqueror, Kyle Edmund, maintained his strong run with a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 win over eighth seed David Goffin.

Edmund will face Denis Shapovalov, who came through his all-Canadian clash with Milos Raonic, 6-4, 6-4.

Later Thursday, world number one Rafael Nadal, who has already claimed an 11th title in Monte Carlo and Barcelona this season, faces Diego Schwartzman of Argentina for a place in the quarter-finals.

A win will take Nadal past John McEnroe's all-time record of 49 straight sets won on any surface.