Almost ten weeks after their classic French Open final, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep will battle for a place in the last four of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. Check out the Sharapova vs Halep Head to Head matches.
Currently ranked first and second on the WTA’s Road to Singapore, both women earned their berth in the quarter-finals with patchy wins on Thursday. Sharapova was kept on court for almost two hours by compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; she led the first set 4-1 before being pulled back, then eked out the second on a tie-break to complete a labour-intensive 6-4, 7-6(2) victory. Although she’ll have been satisfied with winning 73% of first serve points and hitting seven aces, the famously demanding Sharapova won’t have been pleased with dropping serve four times.
Halep’s 6-4, 7-5 win over Lucie Safarova was played in stifling humidity, and the Romanian had to extricate herself from sticky situations several times. With Safarova playing her typical boom-and-bust game, Halep had little opportunity to find her groove, and a 53% first serve percentage made holding serve difficult. Yet the second seed was by far the steadier competitor when it mattered, and she didn’t hesitate to punish Safarova’s second serve. In only her second hard court match of the summer, Halep did enough to show just why she’s become one of the toughest outs in tennis.
Expectations are high ahead of this quarter-final. The Roland Garros showpiece was one of the most competitive Grand Slam finals in years, and their match before that, the Madrid final, was a humdinger as well. Sharapova and Halep are in different spheres when it comes to image, marketing and profile; they also use different means to win tennis matches. But they are equally hungry for the fight, and neither wants to leave Cincinnati without the silverware.
Sharapova is eight inches taller than her rival and hits a heavier ball. When it’s clicking, her serve is a bigger asset that allows her to open up the court and gain the upper hand from the beginning of rallies. Halep is the superior mover, but she is much more than a counter-puncher. She changes the direction of the ball as well as any elite player and knows how to get her opponents on the back foot.
How much of a difference will the switch from clay to hard courts make? Both prefer the dirt; both have won multiple titles on cement. Sharapova will hope that the faster courts will give her serve extra pop and make her groundstrokes harder to return, while Halep will aim to soak up the Russian’s pace and return the ball with interest. Can Sharapova play a smart tactical match, hitting clever wrong-footing shots and to exploit Halep’s tendency to run into the spaces? Can Halep take advantage of Sharapova’s discomfort moving forward?
Halep has admitted that she was distracted by Sharapova’s slow pace between points in Paris, so she’ll aim to stay focussed in Cincinnati. With Sharapova seemingly a long way from peak form, this is the Romanian’s best chance to beat her for the first time. A win would see her take over as the WTA Race leader, but more importantly it would send her confidence soaring ten days away from the start of the US Open.
Prediction: Halep will do what she couldn’t quite manage in Paris – tighten her grip on Sharapova in a knife-edge third set.