WTA Cincinnati: Simona Halep survives wild two-day opener

It took nearly 18 hours, both on and off the court, for world number one Simona Halep to win her opening match at the 2018 Western and Southern Open, returning after an extended rain delay to win in three sets.

Simona Halep
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Ajla Tomljanovic

In a match full of pauses including medical timeouts and a rain delay that lasted nearly a full day, Simona Halep dodged a massive bullet to get her first win under her belt at the 2018 Western and Southern Open. The world number one trailed multiple times to Ajla Tomljanovic but finished strong on both sides of the rain delay to claim a three-set win.

Inconsistency cost last week’s Montreal champion the opening set, but she would rally to send the match to a decider. There, she fell behind early but rallied after a medical timeout, winning the last six games of the match, including two after rain pushed the women off the court. Almost a full day after they started the match, Halep advanced with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

Tomljanovic perseveres

The match looked like it was going to follow the traditional script as Tomljanovic double-faulted at 30-all in the opening game to go down break point but a defensive forehand from the world number one was punched long. Halep would get a second shot at 40-AD when she ran the Aussie into a backhand error but Tomljanovic crushed a forehand winner to avert the threat.

Ajla Tomljanovic was able to cause problems for the world number one with her powerful backhand. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ajla Tomljanovic was able to cause problems for the world number one with her powerful backhand. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

At 1-2, the momentum started to shift to the world number 58. Halep would send a backhand wide to go down 15-40 and, despite saving the first break point with a serve+one, she sent a forehand long to surrender the break. Tomljanovic had to battle to consolidate, saving three break points in the following game to take a 4-1 lead.

As Tomljanovic served for the set at 5-3, she sent a backhand into the net to go down 15-40 and did the same on the next point to give up her break lead. But after everything she’d done to reclaim the break, Halep failed to level the set, instead sending a forehand into the net to go down 15-40, double set point. She saved the first with a swinging volley but followed it up with a double fault to drop the opening set.

Halep starts to seize control

Once again, the world number one put pressure on in the opening game of the set, this time racing ahead love-40 on Tomljanovic’s serve. Halep ripped a forehand winner on the second break point to take an early lead. But once again, she gave it right back. After saving break points at 30-40 and 40-AD, Halep committed back-to-back double faults to level the set at 1-1.

Simona Halep lines up a backhand during the late-night clash. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Simona Halep lines up a backhand during the late-night clash. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

After four straight breaks of serve, Tomljanovic nearly gave away a fifth when she sent a backhand long for 40-AD in the next game but saved it with a forehand winner and held to take a 2-1 lead. But the threats from the world number one kept coming and in the next Tomljanovic service game, a backhand from Halep caught the net cord and dropped in for a winner that gave the top seed double break point. The Aussie fired a forehand into the net to drop the break.

After her two previous breaks, Halep was broken back immediately both times. At the third time of asking, the world number one consolidated her lead with a hold to love. She would strike again late in the set as Tomljanovic served to stay in the set at 3-5. The top seed set up a double set point with a forehand passing shot that the Aussie dumped into the net and was then gifted the set when Tomljanovic double-faulted.

Delays help Halep

Both players left the court during the changeover between sets. Halep’s momentum completely evaporated during that changeover, as she looked sluggish to start the third and was broken to love in the opening game. Things went from bad to worse in her next service game when she double-faulted to go down 15-40.

Tomljanovic's forehand let her down in many key moments in the loss to Halep. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Tomljanovic's forehand let her down in many key moments in the loss to Halep. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Everything seemed to be going against the world number one as she drilled a drive from the forecourt straight at Tomljanovic who blocked it back defensively, only for it to fly over Halep’s head and drop in for a winner and a 3-0 double break lead.

Halep would leave the court during the changeover for a medical timeout. The imposter who walked off the court was replaced by the world number one when she returned, as the Halep who brought home the French Open back in June came out ready to rock after the break.

In the very first game after the medical timeout, Halep broke to love to reclaim one of the breaks. She then consolidated to love, winning eight straight points after her medical break. Tomljanovic got her bearings back and began to hang with the top seed but sent a backhand into the net for 40-AD in her next service game. Halep would rip a backhand winner to level at 3-all.

Halep talks to her coach Darren Cahill during the comeback victory. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Halep talks to her coach Darren Cahill during the comeback victory. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

After holding to win her fourth straight game for a 4-3 lead, Halep had a chance to take a stranglehold on the match when she went up love-30 on the Aussie’s serve and had a look at an inside-out forehand that would have given her triple break point but pushed it just wide. That would prove crucial as just after the miss, the rain arrived, forcing the players off the court with Tomljanovic down 3-4, 15-30. The rain persisted into the night, forcing a holdover until the following day.

The match resumed around 3:20 local time, nearly 18 hours after the match was paused. After Tomljanovic took the first point to level at 30-all, Halep resumed her hot tun, ripping a backhand passing shot winner up the line to set up break point. Tomljanovic sent a forehand long to drop the break. Halep would wrap up the match with a hold to 15, winning six straight games to take the set and six of the eight points after the restart.

By the numbers

It was not the cleanest match from either player. Both women’s serve left quite a lot to be desired, as neither won more than 50 percent of their second serve points. Halep was slightly better on his first serve winning 71 percent to Tomljanovic’s 58. Both did not do a great job of saving break points either, as Halep saved four of nine, while the Aussie saved seven of 14. Both had considerably more unforced errors than winners.

It’s a good thing that Halep won as quickly as she did on the second day, as more rain came almost as soon as they left the court. Halep will have a few hours to recover before she takes on 16th seed Ashleigh Barty later tonight, possibly much later considering all the rain falling on Cincinnati, in the round of sixteen.