Halep Finds Solutions, Earns First Win In Three Months

Simona Halep (photo: @CincyTennis/Twitter)

MASON, OHIO/WASHINGTON, August 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Three-time Western & Southern Open finalist Simona Halep is no stranger to playing on Center Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, near Cincinnati. On Tuesday, she opened play on the big court with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory – her first in three months – over Poland’s Magda Linette, who was looking for her third win this year over a Top 20 opponent.

After reaching the title match in 2015, 2017 and 2018, Halep arrived looking to play some matches after being idle since Rome in May with a calf tear that forced her to miss Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympic Games. The former World No. 1 has slipped in the rankings to No. 13 as a reflection of her inactivity on the WTA Tour, but it’s given Halep new incentive to fight.

During her match against the 44th-ranked Linette, Halep opened by winning the first set. Then, down 4-1, she took a medical time out to have her right thigh wrapped. Soon, the rain, which held up play for a combined four hours on Monday, returned and the players were sent packing for about an hour after playing for 76 minutes.

Then, after dropping the second set, Halep found solutions – both physically and mentally – in the final set. She broke Linette twice – in the second and fourth games – and saved six break points to race to a 5-0 advantage, then put away the match two games later to advance to the second round against American Jessica Pegula, who beat Montreal champion Camila Giorgi of Italy, 6-2, 6-2, in a rematch of their Omnium Banque Nationale Saturday semifinal.

Halep finished with 26 winners and made 26 unforced errors. Linette countered with 28 winners and 32 unforced errors. Halep saved 12 of 14 break points she faced while converting four of 10 opportunities against Linette. The Romanian outpointed her opponent 97-86.

“It was a tough match,” Halep admitted during her on-court interview. “Definitely, it was even tougher after the long break. The confidence is not very high. I just kept fighting and I’m happy I could win my first match after the comeback.”

Later, during a sit-down interview with Tennis Channel, Halep said: “I felt like the game is there. I just have to fight. I did very well today fighting.”

Last week in Montreal, after losing Danielle Collins of the United States in her first match after returning to the WTA tour, the 29-year-old Halep was asked if she watched Wimbledon or the Olympic tournament as well as if she missed playing. “I didn’t watch, honestly I didn’t watch. Just a few balls, few games. But I didn’t play attention. It was too, like, painful to watch the matches,” she said.

“When you are injured, you feel sad and disappointed. It’s not really good, in my opinion, to stay and watch matches.

“But the time home was great. I was with my family. I was with my friends. So, I needed this break to recharge my batteries, mentally first and of course physically because of the injury.

“It’s not good in the middle of the year to get that break. Still, I see the better part. It was good to recover a little bit.”

Gauff sets up showdown with Osaka

American teen Coco Gauff, ranked 24th, endured a four-hour rain delay and beat 73rd-ranked qualifier Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan, 6-1, 6-2, sealed with an ace, in 66 minutes to set up a second-round showdown and third career head-to-head with World No. 2 and second seed Naomi Osaka of Japan on Wednesday.

Gauff struck 20 winners – including 10 aces – and made 16 unforced errors, while Hsieh hit 11 winners and committed 19 unforced errors. Gauff converted five of six break-point chances and outpointed Hsieh 59-37.

In their two previous meetings, Osaka beat Gauff in the third round of the 2019 US Open, 6-3, 6-0. Gauff got revenge in the next major, beating Osaka 6-3, 6-4 in the third round of the 2020 Australian Open.

“Coming in today, I knew [Hsieh] was going to be a tricky opponent,” Gauff said during her on-court interview. “She’s a really unpredictable player and she’s proven she can give even the best players trouble on the court. So coming in, I think I focused on playing my game and being aggressive, and not get too upset because I knew she was going to hit some amazing shots.”

• Other first-round winners advancing: Ons Jabeur, wild card Bernarda Pera, Karolina Muchova, Elena Rybakina,Veronika Kudermetova, No. 10 seed Belinda Bencic, No. 14 seed Victoria Azarenka, Dayana Yastremska and qualifier Caroline Garcia.

Dimitrov rekindling fond 2017 memories

World No. 21 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria snapped a three-match losing streak with a 6-3, 6-4 upset of No. 13 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in a rain-interrupted match Tuesday afternoon.

The 2017 Cincinnati Masters champion Dimitrov, now 30, served 16 aces and hit 30 winners against the World No. 16 Bautista Agut. He broke the Spaniard three times during the 84-minute match. Dimitrov improved to 4-2 lifetime against Bautista Agut and next will face No. 38 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, who defeated 66th-ranked American qualifier Marcos Giron, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).

“I am very, very happy,” Dimitrov said afterward during an on-court interview. “He is such a tough opponent, but I served really well when I had to. It was good to finish a match in straight set. I am just appreciating the moment.”

• Also advancing: No. 45 Sebastian Korda of the United States defeated Serbia’s Laslo Djere, 6-4, 6-4, to set up his first meeting against No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece on Wednesday. Korda’s victory over the No. 52 Djere, in which he hit 18 winners and outpointed his opponent 63-49, lasted an hour and 21 minutes.

Korda recovered from a break down and won the final three games of the match. Ahead 5-4, Korda failed to convert two match points on Djere’s serve before rain interrupted play for an hour. However, after the delay, Korda closed out the match on his third match-point try that wrapped up a 14-point final game.

Asked by Tennis Channel‘s Prakash Amritraj how challenging it was to have sit through the rain delay before taking care of unfinished business, Korda said: “Especially having two match points, it wasn’t easy. The rain started falling and it was difficult going back to the locker room. I stayed positive and I felt like I had the match in control and I did my thing when I came out.”

Other first-round winners advancing: Marin Cilic, John Isner, Lorenzo Sonego, Reilly OpelkaGaël Monfils, wild card Frances Tiafoe, and qualifier Tommy Paul. Second-round winners advancing include: No. 5 seed Matteo Berrettini, who beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, and No. 50 Benoit Paire, who upset No. 6 seed Denis Shapovalov, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

Murray’s return to competition worth the wait

Thirty-four-year-old Andy Murray returned to competition for the first time since Wimbledon at the Western & Southern Open Monday night in Mason, Ohio. The two-time (2008, 2011) Cincinnati Masters champion, who was given a wild card into the main draw, didn’t arrive on court until 9 p.m., after a couple of lengthy rain delays backed up the completion of the day session. However, it was worth the wait for Murray, who won his first ATP Masters 1000 title at the Western & Southern Open in 2008.

The 105th-ranked Murray from Great Britain won his opening-round match against No. 53 Richard Gasquet of France, 6-4, 6-4. Murray finished with 38 winners, including 14 aces, to the qualifier Gasquet’s 20 winners. The Briton won 81 percent (29 of 36) of his first-serve points in advancing to the second round against No. 9 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, who took out No. 34 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-1.

“I thought I did well. I moved pretty well for my first singles match in a while on hard courts,” Murray said during an on-court interview after his victory. “Certainly, a little bit more confidence in my movement than when I played him a couple of years ago.” Murray was referring to his first match in 2019 (also against Gasquet in Cincinnati) that he had played since having hip resurfacing surgery. “So I was a bit apprehensive.

“He uses all the angles on the court really well and makes you move a lot so you need to move well against him and I did that tonight. I served good. I got a lot of free points on my serve. I thought I was taking control of the rallies when I had the opportunity so it was a good match.”

Murray improved to 9-4 against Gasquet and 34-13 lifetime at the Western & Southern Open in his first competitive match on a hard court since March at Rotterdam and first Masters 1000 match in a year.

“It’s amazing. They were saying it’s the 16th year I’ve been here,” Murray said in press. “I don’t think I’ve played any tournaments more than that. I always enjoy coming back. They support the tournament unbelievably well from the first round through to the final.”

Kerber wins battle against Sakkari

Former World No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany, twice a Cincinnati finalist in 2012 and 2016, battled past 18th-ranked Maria Sakkari, 6-2, 6-2, in a late-Monday evening clash of Grand Slam semifinalists on Center Court. The 21st-ranked Kerber outpointed the Greek star 63-45.

The one-hour and nine-minute match among two of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the women’s draw leveled their 2021 head-to-head at a victory apiece after Sakkari won at the Grampians Trophy in Melbourne back in January. Kerber leads the lifetime series 3-1.

“I’m so excited to be back in Cincinnati. Thank you guys for staying so late, it means a lot!” Kerber said during her post match interview on court. “It’s always tough to play Maria. She’s already having a great year, so far. I knew I had to play my tennis, being aggressive. It’s never easy going out [on court] so late. I tried to enjoy my tennis. I think I played a great match.”

Kerber, who has been idle since her semifinal loss to eventual-champion Ashleigh Barty at Wimbledon, has won 11 of her last 12 matches going back to her title run at Bad Homburg, Germany, in June. Next, she will face No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

Tuesday’s Western & Southern Open results

Wednesday’s Western & Southern order of play

Happy 51st Birthday, Jim Courier

Happy 69th Birthday, Guillermo Vilas

The Way Back Machine / August 17, 1987

By the numbers

American John Isner hit 26 aces to reach 13,004 for his career during his 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie Tuesday evening. Isner is just the second player in ATP Tour history to reach the 13,000-ace milestone, joining Ivo Karlovic, who has 13,709.

“Very cool. I do know that I’m within shouting distance of Ivo, of maybe getting that record,” Isner said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “If he does retire soon, that certainly is a milestone that seems attainable, the all-time record milestone. I would like to hold that record, I’m not going to shy away from that. We’ll see if I can get there.”

“Quotable …”

“I feel like I’m not really doing that much, like I could do more, and I’m trying to figure out what I can do and what exactly or where exactly to put my energy into. But I would say, like, the prize money thing, it’s sort of like the first thing that I thought of that I could do that would raise the most awareness.

“I guess that is the reason why I announced it. It’s really scary, because like I see the news every day, and honestly the earthquake was kind of close to, you know, my parents’, like, school there. So, I’m honestly not rally sure how that’s doing and I haven’t seen any pictures or video of if yet.”

Naomi Osaka, during her Monday media day interview on her thoughts about Haiti and her decision to donate her prize-money earnings from this week’s Western & Southern Open toward Haiti relief, the country her father was born.

What they’re sharing on social media

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova / Still in Canada …

Darren Cahill / Look out Romania!

Billie Jean King / All In

Shelby Rogers / Proud to say I’m a college graduate.