Simona Halep made her way into the semifinals with a big victory at the Western & Southern Open Friday night. The number two seed in the tournament defeated Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in a 7-6(3), 6-2 straight sets win on center court at the Linder Family Tennis Center. The third time was the charm as she made her way into the semifinals for the first time.
Halep has won all four meetings against the Russian but at present the biggest question will be if she could make it five straight. Thursday night, the Romanian played one of her hardest matches since retiring to Belinda Bencic at the Rogers Cup final. Though this case was at night, the fatigue that Halep felt required few timeouts with the trainer. Though she won the 2 hour and 40 minute matchup, she was faced the reality of another game 24 hours later.
Pavlyuchenkova had been ousted by Halep winning no more than six games during her straight sets loss. With plenty of energy since her quick win over Victoria Azarenka; she would try to use that to her advantage. The 34th ranked Russian who made to the semis five years ago and would do everything possible to get back there again.
In front of a sizeable crowd, Pavlyuchenkova pulled off the break with a strong forehand return to start the first set. She went up 2-0 on a hold of serve allowing little room for Halep to strike. Halep was warmed up to win her first game against the Russian sitting a game down. She would take the next one to even up but only briefly. The momentum that Pavlyuchenkova had going was enough to give her a win in the fifth that had her on top again. She would later pull off a love service to open the gap on the Romanian.
Halep struck back in a long fight on deuce to stay alive in the match but was still dealing with a lot of fight from Pavlyuchenkova. In her quest to in Game Eight, Halep lost the chance for the break point and had to play it out on deuce. After two breaks, the Romanian earned the win on a short rally that ended with the Russian firing the ball wide.
The important lead change for Halep arrived in the ninth as she broke Pavlyuchenkova on serve to play for the set. The Russian was again denied her the opportunity breaking on two points to force the set to its limit. In a show of force, Halep made the push to take the lead one last time in the set to get her way out front in the match.
The Russian wouldn’t let her get away as a nine minute battle with Halep ended with Pavlyuchenkova winning the twelfth game and move the set into a tiebreaker. The Romanian knew that winning the opening set was at stake in her current strength. She blasted out a 4-0 lead on Pavlyuchenkova before she tallied a point of her own.
She increased it with another pair but was stopped with Halep on the shot serving up an ace, then a winner and on set point watching Pavlyuchenkova fire an unforced error into the net. The victory for Halep ended in 1 hour and 3 minutes with Pavlyuchenkova serving very well despite losing the set on late unforced errors. Halep showed a little more dictation before winning making it her way of getting a straight sets win.
She would find herself inching closer to reality as she had a solid game against the Russian while the opposition was falling to pieces. Halep was at 3-0 in the second set with a high serve percentage. Pavlyuchenkova’s coach came out for another talking try to get his player to the second-guessing and get into the game. Halep had her ankle taped up for a second time in the match as her body was aching away while her game stayed tight.
The Russian made something happen in Game Four firing a triple break point to end Halep’s four game winning streak. It still didn’t help her own service in the set as she was broken each time that included her fourth straight giving Halep a 5-2 score with the chance to end it on her terms. A quick triple match point came to the hands of the Romanian where she let Pavlyuchenkova into the fight.
A second point from the Russian turned into three that had Halep fighting for the win on deuce. After three breaks and a fourth match point, Halep was able to end the match with a shot down the line far away from Pavlyuchenkova. In what finished as a 1 hour and 41 minute match, the number three-ranked player got out of a jam against a player who was on her for most of the straight set duration.
“I’m really happy that I could win the match,” Halep told ESPN’s Mary Jo Fernandez and Cliff Drysdale. “I felt very tired in the beginning and had muscle pain in my left leg from Toronto but the desire to win the match was bigger and I just tried to fight for ever ball and that I had the power to finish it and I was stronger than her today.”
It summed up the fact that her hard work through the season has helped her become a strong opponent in the WTA. “I had a bad season losing two grand slams and then I took a long break home without tennis,” said Halep. “I improved a lot in my body, I am stronger now and mentally I’m more relaxed. I have no pressure because I want to find the way back to fight for every match and my confidence is very high now.”