Top seed Simona Halep began her Transylvania Open campaign with a simple win over fellow-Romanian Elena-Gabriela Ruse in just over an hour in Cluj-Napoca, while second-seeded Anett Kontaveit, fresh off her title win in Moscow on Sunday, opened her’s with a straight sets win over Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic on Wednesday.
I never said I would stop playing after the wedding party. I’m still motivated and still love tennis. My husband is next to me all the time, and I’m happy to stay on court, and play matches. I’m improving, day by day. I feel more confident during the tournaments and matches. I think I’m starting to feel my best game again. Simona Halep
Former World No 1 Halep has had a difficult year, plagued by an on-going calf injury incurred in Rome, that sees her finish outside the Top 8 in the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals in Guadalajara for the first time since 2013, but she is already eyeing a 2022 comeback during her run of autumn tournaments.
“I just wanted to get the feeling back from playing official matches,” she said of the decision to play the Kremlin Cup last week Moscow, Cluj-Napoca, and Linz after the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
“I didn’t play much this year, and I really wanted to get that feeling back, and the confidence, as well. These are the only goals.”
Halep missed Roland Garros and Wimbledon because of the freak injury in Rome where she was the defending champion, and has since dropped out of the Top 10 to 18.
On Wednesday, she looked her old self as she delivered 6 aces while dispatching Ruse, 6-1 6-2, in her first round match in her homeland.
The 30-year-old was up against one of the new generation of Romanians who have been inspired by her achievements, Ruse having captured her first WTA title in Hamburg this July, backing it up with a run to the Palermo final and cracking the Top 100 in August.
The contest was tight at the start, with Halep surviving 4 deuces and a break point to hold her opening service game as Ruse unleashed her powerful ground-strokes but, after coming through that, the top seed took control of the World No 85.
Errors came too often for Ruse and the 23-year-old was soon trailing 2-4 in the second when she fought to stave off the double break as Halep came up with two phenomenal passing shots that essentially sealed the match.
Halep only needed just 73 minutes to advance, winning 83% of her first-serve points to Ruse’s 53% and saving the only break point she faced while taking 4 of the 8 break point chances that came her way.
She also won 55% of her second-serve points to her opponent’s 40%, and finished the match with 63 points to Ruse’s 38 after her opponent coughed up 6 double-faults.
The Romania, who married longtime partner Toni Iuruc after the US Open, has been fending off rumours of her pending retirement.
“Many people were talking about that, but I never said I would stop playing after the wedding party,” she told the media. “I’m still motivated and still love tennis.
“My husband is next to me all the time, and I’m happy to stay on court, and play matches.
“I’m improving, day by day. I feel more confident during the tournaments and matches. I think I’m starting to feel my best game again.
“Of course, it’s never easy after a long period without playing matches. Now, I’m focused only on what I feel today, and I feel good.
“The injuries are in the past, so I’m trying to take positives from every match.”
For a place in the quarter-finals, Halep will take on Varvara Gracheva from Russia.
Earlier, Estonia’s Kontaveit was a 6-3 7-5 winner over Krunic, extending her indoor winning run to 11 matches.
The Estonian broke the Serbian’s serve 3 times while dropping her own just once, in the second set, following the sole break point she faced, and she won 76% of her first-serve points to Krunic’s 68% and 64% of her second-serve points to the latter’s 45%.
Kontaveit has now won 22 of the 24 matches she has played recently, and has won 2 WTA 500 indoor trophies this autumn, in Ostrava and Moscow.
She is in contention for the last open spot at the Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara but needs to win the tournament here to secure it, and she took an impressive step towards her goal after racing out to a quick 3-0 lead against Krunic, breaking the World No 140 immediately, thanks to a combination of Serbian forehand errors and her own aggressive returns.
Kontaveit did not face a break point on her own serve as she jumped out to a 6-3, 4-2 lead, but Krunic used her forehand to greater effect to break back for 4-4.
The Estonian’s response was swift as she broke again for 6-5, setting up her second break point with a brilliant backhand winner, and serving out the win to 15.
Up next will be another player on an indoor winning streak in Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck, last month’s champion in Nur-Sultan.
“I honestly am not trying to think about it too much,” said Kontaveit when asked about the WTA Finals. “Recently I’ve been enjoying being out on the court a lot more, and I think that’s something to be really proud of.”
Meanwhile, 5th seed Ajla Tomljanovic from Australia was the sole upset of the day in Romania, defeated by home player, Jaqueline Cristian, 7-6(5) 7-5, in 2 hours 11 minutes.
If Halep wins her second-round match, she and Cristian will take on each other for a spot in the semi-finals in another local derby.
Ukrainians Lesia Tsurenko and Anhelina Kalinina reached the quarter-finals after coming through in their respective second-round matches.
Tsurenko defeated fellow qualifier Anastasia Gasanova from Russia, 6-2 7-5, and now awaits either Romania’s Irina Bara or Rebecca Peterson from Sweden, while 8th-seeded Kalinina ousted Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam, 6-2 6-2.
If Anett Kontaveit gets through to the quarter-finals, she will face Kalinina there.