Under The Radar, Halep Is Quietly Through To Miami Open Fourth Round

MIAMI, March 25, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Former World No. 1 Simona Halep, who is the highest remaining seed in the Miami Open presented by Itaú women’s draw following Saturday’s upset of No. 1 seed Naomi Osaka, fought through a shaky start to defeat lucky loser Polona Hercog of Slovenia, 5-7, 7-6 (1), 6-2, on Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens.

The No. 2 seed Halep’s 100th career three-set match lasted a lengthy two hours and 49 minutes, and it kept her hopes alive of reclaiming the No. 1 ranking.

Meanwhile, defending champion and No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens lost to No. 62 Tatjana Maria of Germany, 6-3, 6-2, Sunday night. It was the fourth career win against a Top 10 opponent for the 31-year-old Maria, a native of Bad Saulgau, who now lives in Palm Beach, Florida. She capitalized on 37 unforced errors by Stephens and won on her fourth match-point opportunity. Afterward, during a post-match interview on court, Maria called it an “amazing win.”

During Halep’s post-match interview on the Stadium court after her win over Hercog, she said, “It was a tough match and she played unbelievable.” It was her first time playing a match inside of Hard Rock Stadium. “I think both of us in the end played better than in the beginning. I’m happy with this victory; it means a lot. I was running crazy for three hours, but I feel happier and more confident.” 

Although the No. 93 Hercog once beat Halep in a long-ago Challenger event, in their only previous head-to-head, she was a tie-break away from pulling off a huge upset in straight sets. However, Halep refocused and raised her game. Then, she used the momentum gained from winning the second set tie-break to pull away in the third set.

“Slowly, I’m finding my rhythm, again,” said Halep, who is playing her first tournament with new coach Daniel Dobre. “The fact I’m not giving up any points means a lot and gives me confidence, too. I feel I can win every match I play. 

“If I have these feelings, like last year (finishing No. 1), I have to do this like I did today. I feel I have a chance to be to get back to No. 1.”

The victory advanced the Romanian to Monday’s fourth round against the mentally-tough Venus Williams, who will be making her fourth Round of 16 appearance in the past five years. The three-time Miami Open champion from nearby Palm Beach Gardens advanced with an overpowering 6-3, 6-1 win over No. 14 seed Daria Kasatkina. The Russian’s serve was broken eight times by Williams, who outpointed her 66-45 during the 74-minute match on the Grandstand court. Williams, who lost just one game after trailing Kasatkina 3-2 in the opening set, has not dropped a set during her three victories.

Around the women’s draw

• No. 44 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhzstan earned a come-from-behind victory over No. 11 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, on Butch Buccholz Court, and advanced her to the fourth round of the Miami Open for the first time. The two-time French Open quarterfinalist struggled in the opening set as she was broken twice and won just nine points on Sevastova’s serve. However, by the third set, everything began going Putintseva’s way as she won 11 of 12 second-serve points and secured the win by converting her fourth match point. It was the third time this season that she had won after losing the first set. Next, Putintseva will face No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who needed three sets and two hours and 36 minutes to defeat No. 53 Alizé Cornet of France, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-4. Pliskova persevered, saving eight break points while committing 43 unforced errors against Cornet, who finished the match with her left thigh heavily wrapped. Fortunately for the Czech, she hit 48 winners and sealed victory with her ninth service ace.

• No. 25 seed Danielle Collins of the U.S., a Miami Open semifinalist last year, was knocked out of this year’s draw by No. 50 Wang Yafan of China, 7-5, 6-1. The win advanced Wang, 24, to the fourth round for the second straight year. Her 97-minute victory over Collins came after eliminating No. 6 seed Elina Svitolina on Friday night, and it sets up an all-Wang match on Monday. Wang Yafan will face No. 18 seed Wang Qiang, who advanced by walkover after No. 10 seed and eight-time Miami Open champion Serena Williams withdrew on Saturday, citing a left knee injury.

• Unseeded Marketa Vondrousova upset No. 16 seed and Doha champion Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-4, 7-6 (1), to reach the fourth round. The 19-year-old rising Czech star has beaten five seeded players during the past two weeks, including Daria Kasatkina, Jelena Ostapenko and Simona Halep at Indian Wells and Osatapenko and Mertens at Miami. “I feel great on the court. I’m happy with my play and overall, it’s such a great tournament. I’m so happy to be through to the fourth round,” the No. 59 Vondrousova told WTATennis.com. She will oppose Tatjana Maria on Monday.

Osaka: It’s not easy being No. 1

World No. 1 Naomi Osaka, who was eliminated by No. 27 seed Hsieh Su-Wei, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, in the third round Saturday, revealed during her post-match press conference that it’s not been easy being the top-ranked women’s player.

“I want to win every match I play,” the 21-year-old Osaka said. “I feel like I’ve dealt with the stress of people asking me if I have pressure because I have the No. 1 next to my name. I thought I was doing fine with that, but I guess I’m not.

“I think more about winning now compared to the matches before where I didn’t necessary think that was the case.”

Since winning the Australian Open in January for her second Grand Slam title in less than a year, Osaka’s win-loss record has taken a hit – she’s just 3-3 – and her longest winning streak is just two matches, which she achieved earlier this month at Indian Wells with wins over No. 68 Kristina Mladenovic and No. 26 Danielle Collins. Recently, Osaka changed coaches, switching from Sascha Bajin, who guided her from No. 70 last year to No. 1 in the rankings, to Jermaine Jenkins, a former Venus Williams hitting partner.

What they’re tweeting

You know you’ve hit the big time when Sportsnet’s “Hockey Night in Canada” comes calling. On Saturday, Canadian teen sensation Bianca Andreescu appeared in a pre-taped opening video for the iconic sports program that airs on Saturday nights, coast-to-coast, across Canada. The 18-year-old Andreescu, who is the only unseeded player remaining in the upper half of the women’s singles draw, said in the video, “Even when the odds are against you, you can never give up.”

Sunday’s singles results

Third round
No. 5 Karolina Pliskova d. Alizé Cornet, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-4.
Yulia Putintseva d No. 11 Anastasija Sevastova, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3
Marketa Vondrousova d. No. 16 Elise Mertens, 6-4, 7-6 (1)
Tatjana Maria d. No. 4 Sloane Stephens, 6-3, 6-2
Wang Yafan d. No. 25 Danielle Collins, 7-5, 6-1.
Venus Williams d. No. 14 Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 6-1
No. 2 Simona Halep d. Polona Hercog, 5-7, 7-6 (1), 6-2

Monday’s order of play

Fourth round
No. 3 Petra Kvitova vs No. 19 Caroline Garcia, noon (Stadium)
Venus Williams vs. No. 2 Simona Halep, NB 4 p.m. (Stadium)
No. 5 Karolina Pliskova vs. Yulia Putintseva, NB 9 p.m. (Stadium)
No. 27 Hsieh Su-Wei vs No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki, NB 2 p.m. (Grandstand)
Marketa Vondrousova vs. Tatjana Maria, NB 7 p.m. (Grandstand)
No. 21 Anett Kontaveit vs. Bianca Andreescu, Court 1 (2nd match from 11 a.m.)
Wang Yafan vs. No. 18 Wang Qiang, Court 1 (5th match from 11 a.m.)
No. 12 Ashleigh Barty vs. No. 7 Kiki Bertens, 11 a.m. (Butch Buchholz Court)

Notes

• On Saturday, the Miami Open drew 32,831 fans, the highest attended session in tournament history. In the first week of this year’s tournament, the first at the new Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, seven attendance records have been set.

• All eight women’s fourth round singles matches are scheduled for Monday, including three matches in the Stadium, two on the Grandstand, two on Court 1 and one on Butch Buccholz Court. Monday’s forecast calls for party cloudy skies and a high of 81º Farenheit (27º Celsius), with only a 20 percent chance of rain.