The standout clash of the fifth day of action at this year’s Wimbledon is undoubtedly the third round clash on Centre Court between seventh seed Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka, a match between two Grand Slam winners and former world number ones.
This will be the fifth meeting between the two, with the previous meetings split at 2-2. Azarenka’s wins were more comfortable, though came before Halep emerged as a top player, with Halep winning in three sets at the 2015 US Open and in straight sets at this tournament in 2017, though Azarenka herself was not her best during these encounters.
The winner of this match will reach the second week at the All England Club, where they will face Polona Hercog or Cori Gauff for a place in the last eight.
So far at SW19
Of the two, it is surprisingly Halep who has the trickiest path of the two at this tournament. The Romanian had a tricky start against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, prevailing in two tight sets against Azarenka’s fellow Belorussian. The seventh seed then had another tough encounter against her compatriot Mihaela Buzarnescu, prevailing in three sets. She has certainly been battle-hardened heading into this meeting.
Azarenka, meanwhile, has had a slightly more straightforward route through to the third round. The Belorussian, unseeded at this tournament, started against the tricky Alize Cornet, seeing off the Frenchwoman in two close sets to reach the second round, where she came from 0-2 down against Aija Tomljanovic, winning twelve straight games in a high-quality performance. She will certainly be satisfied with how she is playing coming into this match against a top-ten player.
Halep has certainly increased her aggression in recent seasons, though it is Azarenka who is arguably the more powerful of the two. She will look to try and dictate play as much as possible, though will have to work hard to break down the Romanian’s strong defence; it seems likely that she will try to approach the net as much as possible, considering her strong doubles capabilities. Halep herself will certainly look to attack where she can, though may also profit from errors from the Belorussian is she is able to frustrate her.
It will also be interesting to see how Azarenka’s serve holds up, particularly as Halep is a strong returner. Serving has been an issue for Azarenka since her return, and has cost her in several tight matches, though she has been serving well so far in this tournament; it is absolutely crucial that she does so again today. Halep must also look to place her serve well, as she may be punished if her serves are short.
This is a tight match to call; Halep has had been more consistent over the past few seasons, though Azarenka has been playing very well at this tournament so far. The Belorussian certainly has a great shot at victory here if her serve is firing and she is striking the ball cleanly, but it seems that the seventh seed should just edge this.
Prediction: Halep in three sets