Simona Halep has won the Canadian Open twice, and has her eyes set on a 3rd title in Toronto after coming through her sternest test on Friday when she beat Coco Gauff, 6-4 7-6(2), in the quarter-finals of the National Bank Open presented by Rogers at Sobeys Stadium.
I struggled with my service right to the end. She's always tough to face, and it was a great match. It was really very complicated to come back, she has really progressed in her service and she's very powerful. I really had to concentrate on every point. Simona Halep
The Romanian’s semi-final opponent is another American, Jessica Pegula, who dispatched Yulia Putintseva from Kazakstan, 6-3 6-3, while in the top half of the draw, Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia continued her stunning run with a 2-6 6-3 6-3 win over Swiss Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, and will meet Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic, who battled past China’s Zheng Qinwen, 4-6 6-4 6-4, in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Halep, the No 15 seed who won the title in Montreal in 2016 and 2018 and was runner-up in Toronto to Bencic in 2015, served for the match twice against Gauff without success on Friday, before finally coming through after an hour and 47 minutes.
“She’s a bit stronger. She hits stronger. And the serve was much stronger today. Backhand is always hard,” the 30-year old said after the match. “I think she improved a lot since we played last time.
“It’s always tough to play against her. She’s fighting until the end. She doesn’t give you a point, so you have to stay there and to fight.”
Their first encounter came at Gauff’s break-through Wimbledon in 2019 and in their other 3 matches played this year, Halep has held the edge without loss of a set, and now improves her head-to-head record against the 18-year old to 4-0.
Halep broke Gauff’s serve 6 times on Friday, but from 6-4, 4-1 up, the match got complicated and the Romanian former World No 1 twice failed to serve out the win, at 5-4 and 6-5, before ultimately winning in the tiebreak.
The win is Halep’s 36th of the season, which ranks 3rd behind Iga Swiatek at 48, and Ons Jabeur with 37, and also takes her into her 29th career semi-final at a WTA 1000 event, an all-time record ahead of Serena Williams (26), Agneiszka Radwanska (23), Victoria Azarenka (22) and Maria Sharapova (22).
Gauff had already played 2 marathon 3-setters this week, and looked tired at times against Halep, whose ability to hang into the rallies proved key in extending the games.
The Romanian saved 11 break points, which helped to further sap the American’s energy, but it remained a tight contest to the last.
“I struggled with my service right to the end,” Halep admitted. “She’s always tough to face, and it was a great match.
“It was really very complicated to come back, she has really progressed in her service and she’s very powerful. I really had to concentrate on every point.”
Despite racking up 8 double-faults, Halep held the edge on serve, winning 13% more of her first serve points than Gauff, and keeping the teenager on the back foot throughout.
Halep corrected the on-court interviewer, who claimed that Gauff’s serve reached 196km/h during the match, saying ‘actually it was 198’, prompting laughter, and applause from the packed crowd.
In the semi-finals on Saturday, Halep plays Pegula, who later saw off Putintseva after an hour and 21 minutes in straight sets.
The American 7th seed needed 5 match points to close out against an opponent she had never played before, striking 20 winners, more than Putintseva’s 12, while she also broke serve 3 times.
Now the top-ranked American, Pegula boasts 22 wins at WTA 1000 events in the last 2 years, and is through to her 4th career semi-final at this level, while she was the runner-up to Jabeur in Madrid earlier this year.
Pegula and Halep have never met before.
In the night session, Haddad Maia continued her run of upsets by taking out 12th-seeded Bencic, adding the Swiss to her wins over Canadian No 1 Leylah Fernandez and top-ranked Iga Swiatek earlier in the week, and extending the best performance by a Brazilian at a WTA 1000 event in the open era.
Ranked at a career-high at 24, Haddad Maia took 2 hours and 11 minutes to battle past the 2015 champion, who had a history of success against the Brazilian, having defeated her in their only tour-level match earlier this year in Sydney, as well as on her way to her 2013 Junior Roland Garros title.
It proved to be 3rd time lucky for Haddad Maia, though, who continued her break-through season after claiming her first 2 WTA singles titles earlier this year, in back-to-back weeks on the grass courts at Nottingham and Birmingham.
“It’s nice because Brazil is huge, so we have Brazilians everywhere,” she said. “So I always feel the energy.
“Someone is always screaming, ‘Vamos Beatriz’. And today I saw a lot of Brazilian flags. And I feel very proud of us.”
Bencic eased through the first set, but Haddad Maia levelled up in the second, earning her first break of the contest for a 2-1 lead with a pin-point forehand winner on the sideline and then garnering another break at 5-3 to tie the match.
After falling behind an early break in the decider, Haddad Maia slammed another powerful forehand to pull back on serve at 2-2.
An additional winner off that wing gave Haddad Maia the decisive break for 5-3, and she converted her 3rd match point in the next game.
Haddad Maia is into her 5th semi-final at tour-level this season, with only Swiatek (8) and Halep (7) having reached more on the Hologic WTA Tour in 2022.
Her Last 4 challenge comes in the form of Pliskova, the 14th seed who battled past Zheng in the late match that ended just after midnight local time.
Pliskova, a former World No 1, is now one win away from making the National Bank Open final for the second year in row, although she had to battle long and hard for 2 hours and 33 minutes to end the run of surging 19-year-old Zheng, ranked 51st in the world.
In a clash between the two players who have hit the most aces this week, Pliskova slammed 10 more on Friday night en route to victory, and while Zheng struck 6 more winners, the Czech was 5-for-8 on break points against the Chinese only converting 4 of her 10.
Zheng came back from 0-3 down to steal the first set, and she nearly repeated the feat in the second, charging back from 0-3 to 4-4, but Pliskova saved a break point to hold for 5-4, and then broke to level the match.
There were no service breaks in the closely contested decider until 4-3, but Pliskova claimed 3 games in a row after that, despite producing several double-faults and failing to serve out the match at 5-3, and using fiery cross-court forehands to lead to match point in the next game, which she converted.
Haddad Maia and Pliskova have split their two previous meetings, both coming on hard courts, with the Czech winning handily in the 2nd-round of the 2018 Australian Open, and Haddad Maia getting her revenge last year at Indian Wells.