Halep produces performance of the tournament to reach quarters
Simona Halep had the look of a champion as she saw off the challenge of a tough old foe Carla Suarez Navarro quite brilliantly to reach the quarter-finals.
Simona Halep began to look every inch the outstanding candidate to lift her first Grand Slam title by producing her finest performance of Roland-Garros 2017 on Monday - and maybe the best by any woman so far here - as she dismantled the challenge of her normally troublesome adversary, Carla Suarez Navarro, on Philippe-Chatrier Court.
The Romanian, who rated herself only a 50-50 chance to even compete in the tournament just a couple of days before it started such was the state of her injured ankle, has recovered so effectively that she was back to her very best as she quite dominated her doughty Spanish opponent 6-1, 6-1 in an hour of bullying brilliance.
“I think I played my best match this year,” declared the delighted No.3 seed on court after her pulverising win. “She is a very good player on clay. I pushed her back, I tried to be aggressive and I was extra motivated because I really enjoy this court and it’s great to play the quarter-final again.”
On this form, the 25-year-old should take all the stopping as she seeks to go one better than her 2014 run to the final and take the maiden Slam that her talent demands she must scoop sooner or later. It feels as if it could be sooner.
“I think I played my best match this year."
She and Suarez Navarro are old friends and competitive foes. The pair had played 11 times previously, with seven of the matches having gone to three sets and Halep having lost all five of their encounters on clay. Yet this had a completely different feel; the Romanian was in super-aggressive mode and seemed to have Suarez Navarro on a string as she manoeuvred her around the court with excellent set-up play.
“I have to say that she played a great match. She delivered shots with a lot of consistency,” conceded Suarez Navarro afterwards. “She played flawless tennis.”
Halep agreed, calling this her “complete game”. Her only moment of concern at the start of the first set came in the opening game when she found herself 15-40 down on serve only to produce a superb forehand winner and then rescuing a second break point by forcing a stretched Suarez Navarro to hook a forehand wide.
“The match could have changed if I had won that first game,” shrugged the Spaniard, who then found herself constantly backpedalling as the Romanian produced her best tennis, beautifully setting up the points time and again with penetrating ground strokes and finishing clinically with eight winners in the opening set and another 11 in the second.
Suarez Navarro, the No.23 seed who never gives anything up lightly, found herself somewhat overwhelmed, forced to scuttle around constantly on the defensive, with her sweet one-handed backhand only occasionally earning her the odd moment of relief.
At the start of the second set, there appeared to be a momentary danger that Halep would let the Spaniard off the hook after she absent-mindedly gifted back an early break with her poorest game of the match.
Instead, she regrouped and played quite beautifully, outclassing the woman who had beaten her here over three sets in the opening round in 2013.
Halep certainly moved well. “I have nothing in my mind about injury anymore,” she said. “About my ankle, I still feel at some balls pain, but it doesn't bother me. I'm not thinking about it during the points, so I feel that I'm fit. I'm ready to go into this second week.”
Once again, she suggested that the secret of her current stellar form was the new relaxed and calm attitude she had gained after her coach Darren Cahill had walked out on her after her tame exit from Miami.
“I have to say that she played a great match. She delivered shots with a lot of consistency. She played flawless tennis.”
“I think it meant a lot that he took that decision. It helped me. I just felt that it was like a shock, because I lost the coach,” she recalled. "Just with my attitude, I knew that is the only one thing that I have to change to have him back. So I work hard, and I changed. I changed pretty fast."
If it was a kind of shock therapy, it certainly did the trick as the pair resumed their fruitful partnership after Halep’s run to the semi-finals in Stuttgart.
“I think my attitude helps me to see the game better and to be able to play relaxed and to play more positive,” she beamed, as she pondered a last-eight encounter with Elina Svitolina, who beat her in three sets when Halep was really struggling with injury in the Rome final last month.
“Everything is changed. Also in my general life. I'm more positive. I don't have bad moods anymore, so it's good. I think I am more present on court, and I know exactly what I have to do against each player. I just feel the ball now. (But) I don't want to talk too much about this feeling, because I want to keep it!”
It’s a feeling that could take her all the way to a famous victory.