Former World No 1 Simona Halep stamped her authority as a claimant to the title she won in 2019 by thrashing 4th-seeded Paula Badosa to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon on Monday, where she will take on Amanda Anisimova, who avoided being drawn into Harmony Tan’s unique web and trounced the Frenchwoman in straight sets.
It means a lot that I'm back in a quarter-finals after I struggled so much with injuries and self-confidence. It started with the injury, so I was not able to play for three, four months. Then I lost also the confidence, the belief that I can be good again, in the top. I struggled like a long period. Simona Halep
Halep, yet to drop a set here, has been making stately progress through the draw, emerging as a frontline contender for the title with an emphatic 6-1 6-2 win over Badosa in her first match on the Centre Court this year, producing a ruthless performance to dismantle the Spaniard.
“Definitely, it was a place I wanted to be today,” said the Romanian two-time Grand Slam winner. “I think I played a great match.
“It is always difficult to play her, but it was a pleasure to be back on Centre Court with this great crowd supporting me.
“I didn’t think about [not dropping a set so far] until now but, day by day, it’s better and better, and I’m just looking forward to playing the next one, and giving my best.”
Halep’s last Centre Court appearance was in the 2019 final, when she dominated Serena Williams, and she has now won 11 straight matches at the All England Club.
She needed only 60 minutes to reach her 16th career major quarter-final, improving her season-win loss record to 30-8.
“I’m really happy with the way I’m playing,” said the 30-year-old, who is currently ranked 18. “I’m really confident. It’s a pleasure to be on court.
“I think this helps me a lot to be able to do my best tennis. And everything comes together. I feel strong physically. I feel very good mentally. I feel I have power on court.
“I worked really hard in the past two, three months. I’m really happy with all that I’ve done. That’s why I’m starting to play better and better.
“I got the confidence. I really feel this is my game.”
This resurgence is, in part, due to her recent collaboration with Patrick Mouratoglou, who has rejuvenated the Romanian after an injury-induced slump last year, when she suffered a freak calf tear in Rome that forced her to skip both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
She missed 3 months of competition, fell outside the top 10 for the first time since 2014, and contemplated retirement.
“It means a lot that I’m back in a quarter-finals after I struggled so much with injuries and self-confidence,” she admitted. “It started with the injury, so I was not able to play for three, four months.
“Then I lost also the confidence, the belief that I can be good again, in the top. I struggled like a long period.”
Her build-up to this year’s tournament was compromised by a neck injury, but she has bounced back and is looking very good for the title.
The first match between two Top 20 seeds at this Championships went squarely in favour of the former World No 1, who broke Badosa’s serve 5 times in just 59 minutes on court, never lost her own, and hit 17 winners to just 9 unforced errors.
Badosa, playing her second match on Centre Court after dispatching two-time former champion Petra Kvitova in Round 3, never got herself going, committing 20 unforced errors to just 7 winners.
Halep did step onto Centre Court on Sunday after an absence of 1,000 days to celebrate the court’s 100th anniversary, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other great champions.
“Actually, I was more nervous yesterday than today,” she admitted with a smile in her on-court interview. “It’s very special to be back, I missed a lot, to play in Wimbledon.
“Three years was a lot. It’s always a pleasure to come back and to have the chance to play on Centre Court.”
Badosa entered Monday’s match having won a Championships-leading 90 per cent of her service games and was broken just 3 times through her opening 3 clashes, and yet Halep managed to break her 3 times in the span of 23 minutes to take a one-set lead.
The Spaniard finally put some pressure on the Romanian’s serve in the 3rd game of the second set, pummelling groundstrokes towards the middle of the baseline, realising Halep is at her most dangerous when pulled out wide.
The 4th seed, though, failed to convert the only break point she created as Halep held for 2-1, and while the rallies got longer and Badosa tried to outlast Halep, the two-time Grand Slam champion gave nothing away and soon broke for a 4-2 advantage.
The whole contest was over on the hour mark as Halep stormed into the Last 8 without dropping a set through her 4 matches.
The 16th seed is now set to face Anisimova, the 20th seed, after the American was equally impressive in her 6-2 6-3 triumph over Tan.
The 24-year old Frenchwoman had overcome another American in the 1st-round, 23-time Grand Slam winner and 7-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams, and continued to knock off far more accomplished opponents in her Wimbledon debut, including a 6-1 6-1 thrashing of Brit Katie Boulter on her way to the last 16, but her dream run was ended in clinical fashion by Anisimova.
The Parisian is an intriguing character, with a Vietnamese mother and Cambodian father who escaped the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge, while she loves to surf as she dips into golf and judo, and is also a pianist with 8 years of conservatory music study.
Her quirky game has captivated audiences, with a backhand slice that skids low, slow floating balls and exquisite drop-shots and easy volleying at the net that weave a web of confusion.
She literally takes the wind out of her opponent’s sails by blunting their rhythm.
On Monday, though, 20-year old Anisimova was ready, combating Tan’s magic spinning by taking the ball early with her powerful groundstrokes, and refusing to fall into the Frenchwoman’s web, prevailing in 74 minutes.
“It was a really tough match,” Tan said later. “I was a little bit tired, but I’m really happy, you know, to be in the second week. I think it was an amazing tournament for me.”
Tan’s lack of height at under 5-foot-6 proved a disadvantage, making her serve exceedingly attackable, and although the crowd on No 1 Court was audibly on her side against the American, she could not weave her crafty game.
Anisimova, a semi-finalist in Paris in 2019, has had a difficult path since her father-coach died suddenly from a heart attack only a few months later.
Her grieving was lengthy, while isolation during the pandemic took further toll, but she is back to form in 2022, reaching her 3rd Round of 16 at a major in 6 months.
“Going into this, I didn’t think this was possible,” Anisimova said in her on-court interview. “It’s a dream come true right now.”
The 20-year-old arrived at Wimbledon under the radar but, having beaten title contender Coco Gauff in the previous round, she is now the last remaining American woman in the singles.
She quickly got on top of Tan on Monday, crunching away a forehand to break serve in the 3rd game, and when a weary-looking Tan looped a forehand long to trail 4-1, the writing was on the wall.
Tan, who had only ever won 2 Grand Slam main draw matches before this Wimbledon, stopped the rot by holding serve at 5-1, but she never really looked capable of springing another surprise.
A double-fault gifted Anisimova an early break of serve in the second, and the American broke again to seal victory with a punishing backhand return.
“I think when I was 17, I didn’t really appreciate getting to the semi-finals as much as I probably should,” Anisimova said. “It only soaked in, I think, like a year later, understanding what that was, how much it actually meant to me.
“Yeah, just having over a year of not very good results, it really affects you. It motivates me a lot to train harder and just work harder. But when you have losses every week in early rounds, it’s very hard to find that motivation.
“I just kept going. It just took longer than I thought it would. That’s why it means so much to me now for having a great year this year.”
Next, Anisimova will face Halep with a Wimbledon semi-final is on the line.
In 2019, Anisimova snapped Halep’s 11-match Roland Garros win streak and on Wednesday, she will look to snap the 2019 champion’s 11-match Wimbledon win streak.
“I just played her last week,” Anisimova, said referring to her 6-2 6-1 loss to Halep in the Bad Homburg quarter-finals. “She’s really tough to play on grass, for sure.
“Last week she was playing very well. It was a tough match for me. I kind of felt my wrist a bit in that match so I wasn’t really playing to the full of my abilities.
“I know this will be a really tough match coming up, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m sure we’ll both put up a really good fight.”
When they met again at Roland Garros in 2020, Halep decimated the young American, 6-0 6-1.
“I’m sure that I can play good tennis again,” Halep said of facing Anisimova. “But it’s going to be a big challenge.
“It’s quarter-finals at Wimbledon. I’m ready for it, and I’m looking forward for it.”