Simona Halep, the 2019 Wimbledon champion, is proving to be the dark horse in the women’s draw, steadily coming through to become a clear favourite for the title now that Iga Swiatek, the World No 1, is out of contention after her premature loss to Alizé Cornet earlier in the day on Saturday.
I'm happy about it. I'm trying just to play more offensive, and I'm pushing myself to do that. So it was a good match. This tournament back in 2019, it's been the best tournament of my career. The matches that I played here were perfect. So I always have those memories and I have always have confidence that my game is pretty good on grass. Simona Halep
Halep reached the second week of Wimbledon for the 5th time after beating another Pole, Magdalena Frech, 6-4 6-1, to set up a meeting with 4th-seeded Paula Badosa in the Last 16, who edged past two-time champion and No 25 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, 7-5 7-6(4).
“It is always a pleasure to play at Wimbledon and I have great memories, so I am trying to enjoy each day,” she said. “It helps a lot that I could win this tournament [in the past]. I have confidence.
“But every match is difficult and every opponent is tough. [I am] trying to give my best. That is the only thing I can do.”
Halep, a former World No 1, who defeated Serena Williams in the 2019 Wimbledon final for her 2nd Grand Slam title, needed just 66 minutes to oust Frech, ranked 92.
“I’m happy about it,” Halep said. “I’m trying just to play more offensive, and I’m pushing myself to do that. So it was a good match.
“This tournament back in 2019, it’s been the best tournament of my career. The matches that I played here were perfect. So I always have those memories and I have always have confidence that my game is pretty good on grass.”
Frech had already posted a career-best major result in just her 6th Grand Slam main-draw appearance, and her first Wimbledon main draw.
The 24-year-old Pole defeated No 21 seed Camila Giorgi from Italy and Slovakia’s Anna Karolina Schmiedlova to reach a Major 3rd-round for the first time.
Halep, however, would not be denied in her 10th main-draw showing at SW19, and she now holds a 3-0 head-to-head lead in her rivalry with Frech, having knocked the Pole out of two majors this season, including the 2022 Australian Open.
“It was not an easy match back in Australia,” Halep said of Frech. “She’s a good opponent. She’s a good player.
“It’s never easy to play with her. She’s changing rhythm. She’s doing well. It was a good match.”
The two-time Grand Slam champion is now being coached by Patrick Mouratoglou, who advised Williams for several years and, although the partnership is in its infancy, the signs at Wimbledon are promising, with Halep adjusting to the challenges her opponents, and also the tricky, windy conditions this week.
“It is always difficult to play on grass,” she said. “Today with the wind, it was not that easy.”
That may have been the case, but the 16th seed made it look pretty easy enough early on.
The Romanian dictated play on Saturday, with 24 winners to just 5 from Frech, while the 30-year-old converted 6 of her 10 break points to improve her Wimbledon win-loss record to 27-8.
Frech broke Halep on 2 out of her 3 chances, but the unseeded player only won 7 of her 20 second-service points in the match.
Halep took an early 4-0 lead and served for the first set at 5-2, but a double-fault on break point allowed Frech to claw one break back and tightened up the opener.
On the second time of asking, though, Halep served out the set to love, halting the Frech come-back.
After an exchange of breaks in the first 2 games of the second, Halep gritted out another tough break for a 2-1 lead, ending the game with a back-hand winner after a gruelling rally on her 3rd break point.
Halep took charge from that moment on, reeling off the last 5 games to advance.
Later on Saturday, Badosa took just over 2 hours to outlast Kvitova, who won the Wimbledon title in both 2011, beating Maria Sharapova in the final, and 2014, defeating Eugenie Bouchard for the championship.
Badosa came into Wimbledon having lost her sole grass-court match of the season to 169th-ranked Jodie Burrage at Eastbourne, but the Spaniard rounded into form with wins over Louisa Chirico and Irina Bara in the first two rounds this week.
Now, Badosa has picked up her biggest grass-court victory yet over last week’s Eastbourne champion Kvitova, and the World No 4 finds herself in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon for the second year running.
Badosa withstood 34 winners from the powerful left-hander to eke out 2 tight sets, gritting out 2 service breaks from 9 opportunities, while Kvitova’s 11 break points resulted in only 1 solitary service break.
“I think I played almost a perfect match,” Badosa said later. “I was expecting Petra playing an amazing match as well.
“I think it was a big challenge to play against her on grass, but I’m really happy with the win today.”
Kvitova served for the first set at 5-4, but Badosa was able to obtain a crucial break there, and she ultimately won the last 4 games to bag the set.
In the second, the Spaniard fended off 5 break points at 1-1 and 4 more at 3-3 to keep herself in front, eventually prevailing in the tiebreak.
Halep and Badosa will now face each other on Monday in a showdown for a quarter-final spot.
In their lone previous meeting, Halep dismissed Badosa, 6-3 6-1, on the clay courts of Madrid 2 months ago.
Elsewhere, Petra Martic from Croatia advanced to her 3rd Last 16 at Wimbledon, defeating No 8 seed Jessica Pegula from the USA, 6-2 7-6(5).
The win was Martic’s second over a seeded player this week, the World No 80 having dispatched 30th-seeded Shelby Rogers, another American, in the 1st-round.
Having come into Wimbledon looking to snap a 4-match losing streak, Martic’s win over Pegula is her second Top 10 win of the year, the 31-year-old having also beaten Anett Kontaveit from Estonia in Rome.
Martic will take on 17th-seed Elena Rybakina next, after the Kazakh edged past Chinese teenager Zheng Qinwen, 7-6(4) 7-5, in 1 hour and 50 minutes.
The 52nd-ranked Zheng was the only player to take a set off of Swiatek during the World No1’s title run at Roland Garros, and she pushed Rybakina to the limit as she attempted to make the 4th-round at a 2nd Grand Slam in a row.
Rybakina, this season’s ace leader, held firm, though, to reach the 4th-round at Wimbledon for the 2nd straight year, converting 3 of her 4 break points, while erasing 6 of the 8 break points she faced.
She fired 16 aces in her first 2 matches this week to take her season total to a tour-leading 184, and she relied on her delivery again on Saturday, hammering 7 aces down against Zheng, most importantly on her first match point.
In their only prior meeting, Rybakina squeaked past Martic in 2 tiebreak sets in the 2020 Dubai semi-finals.