Wimbledon Battle Of Former Grand Slam Champions And No. 1s Is All Halep

LONDON, July 5, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

When Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka last met at the Wimbledon Championships in 2017, the Romanian prevailed but it happened to be in only Azarenka’s second tournament back on tour after giving birth to her son Leo. Fast forward two years, and before a captivated Centre Court audience on a sunny Friday afternoon, the third-round match between former Grand Slam champions and World No. 1s was dominated by the No. 7 seed Halep, who convincingly beat Azarenka, 6-3, 6-1, to move into the round of 16 at Wimbledon.

Halep’s next opponent will be the 15-year-old phenom Cori “Coco” Gauff in the fourth round on Monday. The teenaged qualifier from the United States, ranked No. 313, saved two match points against 60th-ranked Polona Hercog of Slovenia and pulled out a come-from-behind 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5 third-round victory in her Centre Court debut that lasted two hours and 47 minutes.

Gauff, who a week ago won three straight qualifying draw matches and became the youngest Wimbledon qualifier in the Open Era (since 1968) and the first 15-year-old to play in the the main draw of the grass-court Grand Slam in a decade, has captivated audiences all week long at the All England Club. She has strung together three straight victories by showing grace, poise and determination beyond her years. Halep will be Gauff’s first Top 10 opponent.

Halep: “I think it was my best match this year”

Coming back from an early 3-1 deficit, Halep, the 2018 French Open champion, won six straight games against the two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka en route to an easy victory that took only 66 minutes.

“I felt great on court and I played my best tennis here on grass,” Halep told the BBC during a post-match interview. “It’s always tough to face her. I was very positive and confident and gave everything I had. I’ve gained confidence match by match here. The first two were not easy. I hope I can play better. I never look at the draw, just take it match by match. Now I will just chill.”

Later during her press conference, Halep said, “I’m very satisfied. I think was my best match this year. I played really well. I felt actually very confident. I’ve been aggressive all the match, even if I was 3-1 down first set.

“I expected a tough one. I expected she’s going to play well and she’s going to hit strong, so I knew that. I was ready for the match. I’m really happy that I could win against a player as Vika because she’s a great one.”

Halep hit 13 winners against just nine unforced errors, and as the match lengthened, Azarenka’s game fell apart. The Belarus native totaled 33 unforced errors.

“I don’t really know what happened,” said Azarenka, who has lost seven straight times to Halep, including twice at Wimbledon. “I started couple games feeling pretty good and stuff and just couldn’t find the court.”

Coco’s youth beats Hercog’s experience

On Friday evening, against the more experienced 28-year-old Hercog, Gauff overcame a 6-3, 5-2 deficit – dug deep – and fought off two match points to reach the fourth round in her maiden Grand Slam main draw. In the words of one tennis critic, Gauff “gritted her teeth, won ugly.”

Gauff overcame 43 unforced errors by hitting 24 winners against Hercog, broke her opponent three times, and controlled the net by winning 18 of 29 opportunities. Hercog hit 34 winners while committing 45 unforced errors.

It should be noted that with her three impressive wins – against five-time Wimbledon singles champion Venus Williams, 2017 semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova, and Hercog – Gauff is now up to No. 137 in the live rankings and has earned $220,517 by reaching the fourth round. Not bad for someone whose career prize money prior to Wimbledon was $75,011.

Pliskova moves into second week

World No. 3 and third seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic used her power – 14 service aces – to overcome the craftiness of No. 28 seed Hsieh Su-wei from Taiwan during their third-round No. 1 Court match. It was highly entertaining throughout the entire one hour and 45 minutes, in which the in-form Pliskova finished with 42 winners against 22 unforced errors. Hsieh hit 33 winners and committed just 10 unforced errors, but her quixotic game simply ran out of tricks by the end. It was Pliskova’s 38th victory of the season, which equals World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty for most victory on tour.

Next, Pliskova, who has reached the second week of Wimbledon for the second straight year, faces her countrywoman, 68th-ranked Karolina Muchova. The unseeded Czech upset No. 20 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, 7-6 (7), 6-3 in one hour and 38 minutes on No. 3 Court.

Around the All England Club

• No. 8 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine advanced to the Wimbledon fourth round for the second time with a 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-2 win over No. 31 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece that lasted two hours and eight minutes on No. 3 Court.

Svitolina, who was unable to convert two match points during the second set, came on strong in the last set and took control during the final three games. She overcame 27 unforced errors by hitting 15 winners, won 16 points at the net, and broke Sakkari seven times. Sakkari hit 35 winners but committed 48 unforced errors.

“Mentally I had to stay very strong, I had to really fight through. Maria is a great fighter, I didn’t expect an easy match. Now I have a couple of days off which was a big motivation actually,” Svitolina told the BBC after her win.

Next, Svitolina faces No. 24 seed Petra Martic of Croatia, who advanced over 34th-ranked Danielle Collins of the United States, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, in one hour and 57 minutes on Court 18.

Martic, the only player in the lower half of the draw to win two three-set battles to reach the third round, came from a set down to win against Jennifer Brady and Anastasia Potapova. Against Collins, Martic hit 20 winners and won 71 percent of her first-serve points (34 of 48). Collins committed 42 unforced errors.

• No. 14 seed Caroline Wozniacki became an early causality Friday as she bowed 6-4, 6-2 to 50th-ranked Zhang Shuai of China on No. 2 Court. The Dane darted to a 4-0 lead and was up a double break before Zhang reeled off six straight games to pull out the first set. Zhang hit 28 winners and controlled play at the net by winning 17 of 19 opportunities.

It was Zhang’s first win over a Top 20 player this season and her win over Wozniacki represented the second seeded player she has beaten during the fortnight, following her first-round win over No. 23 seed Caroline Garcia of France. Zhang is the first Chinese player to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon since Peng Shuai in 2014.

Next, Zhang will face 35th-ranked Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine, who defeated 81st ranked Viktorija Golubic of Switzerland, 7-5, 6-3, in a match-up of unseeded players on Court 12. The 19-year-old Yastremska hit 37 winners, including six aces, and broke her opponent five times en route to her victory.

What they’re saying

• No. 11 seed Serena Williams, who came from a set down on Thursday to advance to the third round with a three-set win over 18-year-old qualifier Kaja Juvan of Slovenia: “I like the pressure. I would rather be in this position than any other, and sometimes, I play best when I’m down. I’m just a fighter and never give up.

“I just have to remember that I’m best at closing matches, I’m good at it. I just have to keep the mind frame of where am I, what do I do mentally to close matches. I have to kind of just shut my eyes and get there. It’s just experience and match play. In the past two years I haven’t played a lot of matches. I’m just trying to kind of get that back.”

• No. 4 seed Kiki Bertens, who saved a match point in the second set of her second-round match against Taylor Townsend and went on to win in three sets Thursday: “I thought I was finished, to be honest. But sometimes I’m the lucky one, I guess. I think today that was it.

“But I think it was just a great fight. I think she was playing really well, and so there was not really much I could do. Just keep on fighting, keep on believing that I could do it, and in the end I did it.”

• British No. 1 and 19th seed Johanna Konta, who will face No. 9 seed Sloane Stephens in Saturday’s third round: “I don’t really compare myself to myself. I think I’m in a good place right now. I think I’m playing good tennis. I’m definitely enjoying the tennis I’m playing. I feel like I’m asking my opponents a lot of questions. I feel like I’m answering quite a few, as well, when they ask me questions out on court.

“I think I’ve been kind of building on my level each tournament, each match I’ve been playing as the season has been going. I’m pleased with that. We know it’s never just an upward trajectory.”

What they’re writing

Ben Rothenberg, New York Times tennis correspondent, from his Friday article, “A Giant-Killing Puzzle No One Can Quite Solve,” on Hsieh Su-wei: “Like many professional tennis players, Hsieh Su-wei learned the game from her father. Unlike most tennis players, Hsieh also got lessons from her father, Tze-lung, on picking locks, which remains a favorite hobby. ‘I can open small locks,’ Hsieh, 33, said after her second-round win at Wimbledon on Wednesday. ‘If I play with them every day, I can open bigger an bigger ones. When they’re getting bigger, they’re a little more complicated.’”

Looking ahead

Saturday’s order of play for the women begins on Centre Court at 1 p.m. with top seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia facing British wild card Harriet Dart. At the same time on No. 1 Court, Serena Williams will be taking on No. 18 seed Julia Goerges of Germany. No. 6 seed Petra Kvitova is also in action on No. 2 Court against Magda Linette of Poland starting at 11 a.m. A total of eight women’s singles matches are scheduled that will wrap up the third round.