Happy Halep rediscovers touch to stay in Open


MELBOURNE: A “happier” Simona Halep believed Friday she had emerged from a rut after a straight-sets demolition of Veronika Kudermetova revived her stuttering Australian Open campaign.

The aggressive world number two served strongly and pierced the lines to overwhelm the 32nd seed 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 18 minutes in the third round.

Big-hitting Kudermetova loomed as a dangerous opponent, but it was Halep who blasted the Russian off court in a much-needed confidence boost after she was pushed to the brink of elimination by Australia’s Alja Tomljanovic in the second round.

When Halep wasn’t hitting sizzling winners, she showcased her famed defensive prowess to rattle a misfiring Kudermetova, who was undone by 38 unforced errors.

Halep inexplicably struggled on serve early in the second set but answered every challenge in her best performance of the tournament.

“I played much better than the previous match,” a relieved Halep said. “I’m really happy with the performance tonight.

“I felt the ball much better and also my game (felt better). I moved a little bit better. I’m very focused for what I have to do in the next round, but I’m happier with my game.”

Having survived a draining encounter with Tomljanovic on Wednesday, where she came back from a 5-2 hole, the two-time Grand Slam champion looked sharp and strong.

The Romanian’s seven-year streak in the top 10 is the longest active run among women and eighth all-time on the WTA.

“I feel more confident after the match against Ajla, because when you stay mentally strong… you get an extra boost the next match,” she said.

“It was tough (the Tomljanovic match) for my shoulder. It was just sore, nothing dangerous. Today, I felt much better in the second set. I recovered okay. I’m fit now.”

Halep, 29, is seeking a maiden triumph at Melbourne Park having fallen short to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 decider and Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals last year.

She could next face a blockbuster clash with French Open champion Iga Swiatek, who plays France’s Fiona Ferro in the third round. – AFP

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