Neither of the players have had a good start of the season, and for Simona Halep, a good run at Indian Wells, where she is the defending champion, is crucial for her confidence and for her ranking. Also, Ekaterina Makarova was trying to find her form after an injury layoff at the end of last season. The last two meetings between the two have had a great impact on Halep’s mindset. With one of the toughest losses of her career in quarterfinals at Australian Open, the Romanian has promised herself to never give up fighting as she did in that match, and soon after they met again, in Dubai's semifinals, where Simona kept her promise.
The encounter between defending champion, Simona Halep, and Grand Slam semifinalist in singles, Ekaterina Makarova, was the last match of the day on Stadium 1 under weather conditions which had a slight impact on the developments of the game.
Harsh windy conditions tend to have a greater impact on the kind of style Makarova is playing, the last thing a hard hitting player aiming for lines needs is a tricky wind to hinder her plans. Halep, on the other hand, is so light on her feet and moving so well on the court that she can manage better such conditions, being able to find better solutions and adjust her game faster.
The first set was all about Halep
At the beginning of the first set, both had a solid start, each holding their serve easily, with short rallies, but intense ones. There were quite a large number of net cord balls barely passing to the other side of the court, and that shows how both tried to risk more, knowing that playing safe is not a solution. Just ask Sloane Stephens said, after losing to Eugenie Bouchard, you have to play to attack not to protect, no matter the conditions you’re playing under, you have to adjust your game, find the better solution and to not play safe. The sixth game was a crucial one. Up until then, neither player had a break point, and Halep was the first to earn one. Makarova played pretty well in respect of the windy conditions.
In one of the longest rallies of the first set, Halep hit really strong through the court to force the error, and she took the first opportunity to break. And with a little bit of help from Makarova, who double faulted, Halep took the lead. She won four games in a row to take the first set, managing to break Makarova one more time with a fantastic final point. Having a set point, Halep tried a drop shot reached by Makarova, but Halep ended the point by passing her. Although Makarova tried to use her serve as much as possible to build her points better, Halep was a bit more capable to take advantage of her opportunities, plus, she played big points better and seemed to be more eager to win every single point.
Makarova put up a much better fight in the second set, but it wasn’t enough
The first set was a marvelous display of what Halep can do on a tennis court and seeing her enjoying herself after all the problems she has been going through lately, she seems to have surpassed them and find that perfect style of game which suits her best. In the second set, Makarova tried to clean up more her game,and to not make so many unforced errors (up until the second set Makarova had 16 unforced errors, whilst Halep had only 5), but she also put more pressure with her serve. She used not only a wide serve to open up the court and then to hit the lines, but also her body serve which was really affective. However, Halep was the first one to break, but this time Makarova returned much better and manage to break back to love.
At 5-4 with Makarova serving, the Romanian knew she could get the final break, so she called Darren Cahill to get a few tactic pieces of advice: “If you get to second serve, be a little bit more aggressive on it. Think about this, either depth to the court, to push her back, or short to bring her forward to the court. Once you do that, you can balance it a little bit, remember, you don’t have to get winners against the breeze. (…) This game is all about keeping the ball in play, use your legs, defending well, and staying strong on those leg on the forehand. (…) One point at the time, don’t give her an easy game, if you get a second serve strike good timing through the court, and once you get that ball you want to do something with, let’s think about opening the court.” After Darren's OCC, she took three match points, converting on the second.
Halep has showed today against Makarova, a player who has the game and the assets to beat Halep, that she has completely regrouped physically and in terms of confidence. Precisely the fact that she is now able to train without the fear of getting injured has given Halep this glow look. She has that sparkle back in her game, managing to adjust her tactics according to weather conditions, and above all, to positively respond when her opponent rises her level of play.
What is next for Simona Halep at Indian Wells
After dispatching the Russian, Ekaterina Makarova in one hour and six minutes, Simona Halep will face Czech, Barbora Strýcová in the fourth round. A tough opponent, whom the world number five has played against twice before. In their last encounter Simona beat Strýcová 6-1, 6-4, in 2014, at Beijing. If Simona Halep manages to get past the Czech, then she might face Serena Williams for a place into the semifinals.
On an ending note, let’s see what the Romanian had to say right after her match: “I am really pleased that I could win this match, it was really difficult to play, (it) was really cold outside and the wind was really bothering us. But I played smart tennis and I am happy that I could finish the second set with a break.” She then added: “I knew how to adapt for the wind, and just one part of the court I had to hit stronger, and on the other part with more top-spin. So, I really adjusted really well today, and I am really happy that I did it, and also the couch helped me in the end, and I am really happy that go through. I'm not thinking about defending the title, but I'm really happy to be back here on Center Court. I really have great memories from last year and I believe that here I can come back with my game and with my confidence. So I’m happy, I’m enjoying and really looking forward for the next round."