A strained hamstring forced the Frenchwoman out of events in Stanford and Carlsbad last month. She returned to action at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last week and looked to be in great form when she dismissed Lauren Davis for the loss of only three games. But she had to retire against Magdalena Rybarikova in the third round: an abdominal injury had left her wincing in pain and unable to move freely. She appears to have recovered in time for the Western and Southern Open, but her body will be put to the test immediately by world number 25 Simona Halep.
Having struggled to win more than two matches in a row in the first quarter of the year, the young Romanian came to life during the clay court season. She qualified for Rome and beat Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Jelena Jankovic and Robert Vinci on her way to the semi-finals there; a month later, she won the first WTA title of her career in Nürnberg. She followed up that success with another title, this time on grass in ’s-Hertogenbosch, and after Wimbledon she returned to clay and hoisted the trophy in Budapest.
Like Bartoli, Halep’s US Open preparations have been interrupted by injury, but many fans are keen to see if she can transfer her good form to hard courts. The initial signs are positive: after dropping the first set tie-break to Su-Wei Hsieh in the opening round in Cincinnati, Halep responded brilliantly to take the next two 6-1, 6-2.
Bartoli has won both of the pair’s previous encounters in straight sets, in Madrid in 2011 and in Miami last year. Famously idiosyncratic and headstrong, the eighth seed will focus solely on her own game as she attempts to reach the last 16. If she is fully fit, Bartoli will return Halep’s serve incredibly early and unleash her flat, double-handed groundstrokes with raw intent. It’s a modus operandi that, when it clicks, is almost unplayable.
But Halep has improved significantly in the last 12 months, and her recent hat-trick of titles will have given her immeasurable confidence. A determined counterpuncher who moves extremely well, she knows how to exploit opponents’ weaknesses and will look to keep Bartoli on the run throughout their second round clash. If the Wimbledon queen is still feeling the effects of her abdominal injury, she may go for too much in an attempt to shorten the points, in which case a steady, patient Halep could capitalise.
Bartoli is the favourite for this one, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Halep takes another step on her seemingly inexorable march towards the top ten.