Melbourne | Halep brushes off Brady
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Simona Halep, the World No 3, had to fight hard to get her Australian Open campaign under way, but prevailed over American Jennifer Brady, 7-5(5) 6-1, to reach the 2nd round and a meeting with Britain’s Harriet Dart.
I think the second one, I just found the rhythm a bit better, I tried to move her more because in the first set I just stayed in one corner. I was a bit stronger and the serve was better in the second set. Simona Halep
It took her an hour and 36 minutes, dominating the second set after a very balanced, and at times threatening, first one.
Playing just her 3rd singles match of the year, Halep dug deep to shake off an in-form Brady, to ensure her first Grand Slam match with her Aussie coach Darren Cahill back in her corner was a victorious occasion.
“Definitely was a tough match,” she said. “I knew actually because we played against each other a few months ago, I was prepared to play as much as possible.
“To be in the second round is a very nice feeling to play here in Australia.”
Halep, the 2018 Australian Open finalist, only once met 24-year-old Brady, ranked 49, in Toronto last year, and defeated her in 3 very tight sets, so she knew she had a tricky opener in Melbourne.
The Wimbledon champion needed to save 3 set points against the dangerous floater before pulling away to win her first round in straight sets.
Brady started the year impressively, with victories in Brisbane over Russia’s Maria Sharapova and Australia’s World No 1 Ashleigh Barty, and then losing in the quarter-finals to Petra Kvitova.
Halep needed to draw on all of her fighting qualities to edge out the American, who posed a major threat.
The 24-year-old brimmed with confidence as she rocketed out of the blocks, allowing Halep no time to ease into the match as she slammed 3 clean winners for an immediate break.
Striking her heavy groundstrokes with authority, Brady held on to build a 4-2 lead as Halep was left scrapping to find a toehold in the match.
Seemingly outgunned, Halep, a two-time Grand Slam winner, buckled down to work her way gradually back into the contest.
She deployed the variety she has added to her game in recent years, and a drop-shot lob combination and a reflex lob off her shoelaces paved the way to break back for 4-4.
This set the stage for a thrilling, knife-edge climax to the opening act.
Serving at 5-5, Halep was on a roll, having struck 3 of her finest forehands to reach game point from 0-30, only to slip and land on her right wrist.
On resumption, the former World No 1 was slightly more tentative, and paid the price to concede her serve.
The Romanian’s wrist required a medical time-out, but her grit was still strong.
Serving for the set, Brady reached set point 3 times but couldn’t convert any of them, now beginning to lose control of her groundstrokes as Halep extended the rallies.
A brilliant pass sealed the break-back for Halep, who again proved the better player in a narrowly contested tiebreak.
Brady, who had begun the match combining power and accuracy, was now hitting herself out of more and more rallies, and after eking out such a hard-fought set, Halep made sure to press home her advantage.
The 2018 runner-up missed only 2 first serves and lost just 5 points behind her delivery in the second set, posting a 100% (6 for 6) record at the net.
“I think the second one, I just found the rhythm a bit better, I tried to move her more because in the first set I just stayed in one corner,” Halep said. “I was a bit stronger and the serve was better in the second set.”
Speaking of the fall she took at 5-5 in the first set, Halep joked that it was reminiscent of her ankle roll in the first round of her 2018 campaign, in which she made the final before losing to Caroline Wozniacki.
“As I remember well in 2018 was the same, probably I can repeat that,” said Halep with a laugh.
“I don’t know why in the first round, always, I fall down. Maybe it’s a good sign.
“It’s too far to think about that. My wrist is pretty painful. I need to chill and recover for the second round.”
Halep has won A$128,000 and 70 WTA singles points by reaching the second round and she next faces Great Britain’s Harriet Dart, who won a thrilling final set tiebreak to beat the Japanese Misaki Doi, 2-6 6-4 7-6(10).
The British No 3 fought back from losing 8 consecutive games and blowing her first 2 match points to win, saving the day with Britain’s first and only win on Day 2 of the Australian Open.
Jo Konta, Kyle Edmund, Katie Boulter and Cam Norrie had all crashed out, with only Norrie winning a set.
Dart took her 3rd match point at 10.59pm local time in Melbourne, over 12 hours after Konta had taken to the court in the morning.
The World No 164, who suffered a double bagel against Maria Sharapova in the first round last year, is rewarded with a second round meeting with Halep.
In other late matches on Day 2, Katie Boulter failed to resurrect British hopes as she was beaten 6-4 7-5 by No 5 seed Elina Svitolina.
Following Konta and Edmund’s straight sets defeats earlier on in the day, it was left to Boulter to bring some success to Melbourne, but it was a tall order for the World No 315, who was facing a two-time quarter-finalist in Svitolina.
After failing to capitalise on a break point in the first game of the match, Boulter more than held her own, taking the set to 4-4, but Svitolina found a way through by taking her first break point to clinch the set.
The second proved a more open affair as the pair traded breaks of serve, Boulter going from a break up to a break down within 6 games.
While the Brit managed to get herself back on level terms, Svitolina secured the crucial break at the end of the set to move into the second round.
The Ukrainian will now face American Lauren Davis, with a potential clash against two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza looming in the third round.
After crushing compatriot Katerina Siniakova, Petra Kvitova regretted that her opponent and friend was crying at 6-1, 5-0, particularly since the World No 6 often practices with her.
“Actually, I saw Katka in the last game of our match crying, so it wasn’t really nice for me, of course,” she said.
“We know each other very well. We are practicing the same club in Prague and it’s nothing really easy to play who you well know.”
The 2019 Australian Open finalist couldn’t slow down the engines, even if it was her friend on the other side of the net.
“Yeah, it’s been strange, for sure. I didn’t feel very happy about her, for sure, but, yeah, it’s a tennis match and just had to keep rolling.”
Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova pulled off an upset in defeating Marketa Vondrousova, the French Open finalist and No 15 seed in Melbourne, 6-2 4-6 6-4.
Former champion Angelique Kerber dropped just 4 games against teenage qualifier Elisabetta Cocciaretto, a dangerous debutante, in the last night session match on Rod Laver Arena.
The No 17 seed kept her numbers low, with 17 winners balanced by 15 unforced errors in the 6-2 6-2 win that took her an hour and 22 minutes.
The scoreline belied the quality of Cocciaretto’s shotmaking at times, with the Italian striking 32 winners, slightly outweighed by her 36 unforced errors.
“I was feeling good,” Kerber said in the on-court interview regarding her physical state. “I had a lot of treatment, so that was really important.”
The 2016 champion was also full of praise for her opponent: “I think she will have a great future,” she said.
“It was not so easy – she played really well, I was just trying to stay tough.”