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Wimbledon | Halep hustles Azarenka out of contention

Wimbledon | Halep hustles Azarenka out of contention

In the much-anticipated battle of the two former World No 1s, Simona Halep proved too much to handle for Victoria Azarenka, despite a spirited battle to open the match.

It’s always tough to face her. I was very positive and confident and gave everything I had. I’ve gained confidence match by match here. The first two were not easy. I hope I can play better Simona Halep

In fact, Azarenka stormed to a 3-1 lead early on, but the former French Open champion then won 6 straight games to take command against the two-time Australian Open champion on the Centre Court, effectively taking the wind out of her sails.

Azarenka, who is the World No 40 but climbing back up the rankings, was looking for her first win against Halep in 7 years, having now lost 3 straight matches to the Romanian, and 2 straight at Wimbledon.

The Belarusian, however, has yet to find her inner belief and, as the match grew closer, she became more erratic.

Halep hit 13 winners to just 9 unforced errors in the match, with Azarenka totalling 33 unforced errors to just 13 winners overall.

It was what made the difference and the No 7 seed ultimately eased to victory in just 66 minutes, 6-3 6-1.

All three of Halep’s victories against Azarenka have been at Grand Slams, with her first coming at the 2015 US Open, and her second coming at Wimbledon in 2017, shortly following Azarenka’s return from the birth of her son, Leo.

Custody battles delayed the Belarusian’s full return to the pro tour but, at the age of 29, she has time to become more consistent and challenge for major titles in the future.

After edging past fellow Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu in the second round, this was a far more dominant display from Halep.

it was the Belarusian who started brighter of the two, forcing Halep to save 2 break points on her opening serve of the first set, but Azarenka’s form quickly dissipated in the face of the Romanian’s relentlessness.

As Halep raced for every point, Azarenka was far more the aggressor and while the approach yielded plenty of thumping forehands, especially earlier on in the match, it came at a cost in the shape of a bucketful of  unforced errors that served to undermine all her efforts.

““It hasn’t been that easy. I felt great on court and I played my best tennis here on grass,” the No 7 seed said as she left Centre Court.

“It’s always tough to face her. I was very positive and confident and gave everything I had. I’ve gained confidence match by match here. The first two were not easy. I hope I can play better.

Halep’s game may not be as spectacular as her opponent’s but, when backed into the corner, she fights until she drops, which weakens most opposition’s resolve.

The highlights of the first set included a reaching, forehand winner down the line and a scooped cross-court backhand that fizzed beyond the reach of Azarenka.

The Belarusian, in contrast, had little to show for all her efforts.

The sight of her sunk to the turf, hands on knees at the end of the opening set, having just netted a 3rd overhead volley, this time on her own serve, epitomised her performance.

The second set followed in a similar vein as Azarenka failed to rediscover her form and confidence, handing Halep her easiest win of the Championships thus far.

Halep advances to a Manic Monday match against either Polona Hercog, or 15-year-old American sensation Cori Gauff, set to close out Friday’s action on Centre Court.

“I never look at the draw and just take match by match,” Helep added, with a smile. “ My coach will watch… Now I will just chill.”

The Romanian reached the semi-finals in 2014 and is looking to go the whole distance this year.

Elsewhere, after Marin Čilić was eliminated on Thursday, Petra Martić remained Croatia’s only representative in the singles competitions at Wimbledon.

On Friday, Martić met American Danielle Collins, the 25-year-old from Florida who is currently ranked 34 in the World.

Martić immediately broke serve in the first game of the match and did not give up her any advantage until the end of the set.

In fact, she did not allow Collins a single opportunity to break her and took the first set, 6-4 after 37 minutes of play.

In the second, Collins broke Martić in the 6th game, and while the Croat had the chance to break back in the next game and again the 9th game, she was unable to execute and allowed the American to level.

In the decider, Collins immediately took Martić’s serve and went up 2-0, only for the Croatian to win three gems in a row to come back.

Both held on to their respective service games until Collins served to stay in the match at 4-5 and went down 15-40 to offer up 2 match points.

She saved the first with a forehand winner but conceded the next with a backhand error, sending Martić into the 4th round, 6-4 3-6 6-4 after nearly two hours of play.

Martić next takes on Elina Svitolina, the 8th seed, winner over Maria Sakkari in three earlier in the day.

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