WTA Beijing: Halep breaks Sharapova curse, cruises into last eight

World number two Simona Halep dropped just four games in a clinical display of defence to offence to score her first win over Maria Sharapova and move into the last eight for just the second time in six appearances at the China Open.

WTA Beijing: Halep breaks Sharapova curse, cruises into last eight
Simona Halep celebrates after winning a point during her third-round win over Maria Sharapova—her first in eight meetings against the Russian. | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Simona Halep
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Maria Sharapova

World number two Simona Halep broke a seven-match losing skid to longtime foe Maria Sharapova Wednesday afternoon at the China Open, scoring her first win over the Russian with a crushing 6-2, 6-2 victory to become the first player into the last eight.

Halep Hits the Ground Running

After coming out on the wrong end of a spirited three-set battle five weeks ago at the U.S. Open, Halep got off to a much better start than she did in any of the sets at Flushing Meadows, upping her level after trading breaks with the Russian to take firm control of the opening set.

Simona Halep hits a forehand during her third-round win over Maria Sharapova at the 2017 China Open. | Photo: Zhang Lintao/Getty Images
Simona Halep hits a forehand during her third-round win over Maria Sharapova at the 2017 China Open. | Photo: Zhang Lintao/Getty Images

From 1-1 deuce on Sharapova’s serve, the Romanian would reel off 10 of the next 11 points en route to powering her way to a commanding one-set advantage. In the process, with the help of a devastating combination of world-class defence and well-controlled offence, the world number two would take advantage of another flat start from Sharapova to earn an insurance break in the fifth game before using that advantage to take the opening set, 6-2, in 34 minutes.

Eighth Time’s the Charm: Halep Holds Her Own to Score Landmark Victory Over Sharapova

After a nightmarish start to the match, Sharapova seemed to settle in nicely, saving a break point en route to taking her first lead of the contest with a hold to start the second. That, however, would be all the joy she would get on this day as Halep quickly reasserted her authority, reeling off the next three games to go a set and 3-1 to the good, with Sharapova seemingly unable to find a way back through the defensive—and offensive—prowess of Halep.

Always on the move: Simona Halep hits a running forehand during her third-round win over Maria Sharapova at the 2017 China Open. | Photo: Zhang Lintao/Getty Images
Always on the move: Simona Halep hits a running forehand during her third-round win over Maria Sharapova at the 2017 China Open. | Photo: Zhang Lintao/Getty Images

A few games later, the world number two would double her advantage in the second set before ruthlessly closing out the victory in just 72 minutes with another big serve: one of the many keys to her first-ever victory over the Russian.

“It was a great match, I think I played my best tennis against her,” Halep told the WTA Insider“I served pretty well, and the work that I did after the US Open, I could see it on court today.

“I’m really happy that I could do this. It’s my first victory against her and I just want to enjoy the moment.”

Respect: Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep meet at the net after their third-round battle at the 2017 China Open. | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
Respect: Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep meet at the net after their third-round battle at the 2017 China Open. | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

In addition to doubling her winners (12) to unforced errors (6), the Romanian also served very well, which was unquestionably an area that Sharapova had been able to exploit in their seven prior meetings. Of the 74 percent of first serves that she was able to make to put Sharapova on the defensive right from the off, Halep was more often than not able to come away victorious, winning 77 percent (24/31) of the points when she managed to land her first delivery.

Next Up for Halep: Daria Kasatkina

Next up for the Romanian will be another familiar Russian foe in dangerous rising star Daria Kasatkina, who actually beat Halep in Wuhan just last week in pretty emphatic fashion. This match, and every one from here on out until this weekend, will be especially important for Halep, who can clinch the number one ranking this week if she makes the final and if Elina Svitolina loses before Sunday’s showpiece. If both Halep and Svitolina advance to the final, the winner will be the 25th world number one in WTA history.