Simona Halep has had a rocky relationship with the Australian Open tournament. After reaching the quarterfinals back to back in 2014 and 2015, she lost the next two years in the opening round. Both times she played big hitters and both times she was not 100 percent physically ready.
This year, the Romanian was debuting as the world number one at a Grand Slam and she faced Australian teenager Destanee Aiava. A 17-year-old with nothing to lose and a lot to win. Facing yet again a big hitter, Halep came ready after her successful run at the Shenzhen Open where she won both the singles and the doubles title.
Firing start from the Australian put Halep in danger
For Destanee Aiava, meeting the world number one in front of a stadium full of supporters was an opportunity she took full advantage of in the first seven games of the match. In front of her friends and parents, Aiava played courageously, impressing with the force the 17-year-old is capable of.
Having nothing to lose, she took advantage of a slower start from the Romanian and quickly took the lead. Being 5-2 down, Simona missed three chances to take a break back, and the 10-minute hold for the Australian could have really turned things against Halep. But, as Aiava said at the press conference, she got anxious and requested a medical time-out. A break that helped her come up with a battle plan: "I wanted to make her run".
She refused to give up. “I think the experience helped me today, and also the way I fought, I think I was there at every point, and I didn't give up at all during the match. Also when I was 5-2 down, I said that I will not lose the match. I just have to stay there. If she is going to beat me, she's better, and that's it. But I stayed there.’’
She saved two set points being 3-5 down and pushed the match in a tiebreak where Simona took the control of the points and run away with the first set.
Worrying fall for Simona in the second set
Halep fell at the beginning of the second game and rolled her left ankle. “I feel that is nothing broken, but still the pain was big. I have to see with the doctors,’’ said Halep. “I had before last year, about five (times), this ankle during the years. So my ankles are not good. That's why I tape all the time.’’
The Romanian seemed worried at the press conference and had no idea how serious the problem really is. Although she believes will be able to play in the next round, she remains cautious. Health comes first.
Her next opponent is Eugenie Bouchard to whom she lost in their last meeting at the 2014 Wimbledon semifinal due to an ankle injury as well. Even after the fall, Simona lost only one game to Aiava, but played more cautiously, did not throw herself in dangerous rallies or sprints and was helped by the unforced errors of the Australian.
It's hard to say if the ankle will resist in the match against Bouchard and it seems that Halep cannot catch a break at the Happy Slam.