Halep digs deep to fend off lucky loser

Former world No.1 rebounds to deny 18-year-old in three sets in her Grand Slam debut

Simona Halep, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Simona Halep did not expect to feel that competitive spark again after a torrid injury-ravaged 2021.

But those fires were well and truly burning after surviving a first-round scare against German teenager Nastasja Schunk at Roland-Garros on Tuesday.

In her first Paris outing in two years due to a calf tear that forced her to miss the tournament last season, the 2018 champion needed time to shake off the rust before seeing off the 18-year-old lucky loser 6-4, 1-6, 6-1.

Halep’s victory over the 165th-ranked Grand Slam debutante was anything but smooth.

With Serena Williams’ former coach Patrick Mouratoglou at the helm, the Romanian had rediscovered glimpses of her best on clay leading in with an upset of No.2 seed Paula Badosa before coming up short against eventual champion Ons Jabeur in the Madrid quarter-finals.

Despite an early exit in Rome, she arrived in Paris with her confidence on the up ahead of her 12th main draw appearance.

Story of the match

Schunk surely thought her dream of a Roland-Garros main draw debut was dashed after she fell in the final round of qualifying to Hailey Baptiste, but the luckless Ana Konjuh’s withdrawal due to a broken leg opened an unlikely door of opportunity.

She made the most of it from the off, soaring to a 4-0 lead before an errant Halep began to steady the ship.

Halep bellowed a roar of reinforcement when she ended a punishing exchange with a forehand winner down the line.

She was desperate to find her fire in a seven-minute struggle on serve in the second set, but her younger rival was in a stifling kind of mood and broke on her way to another 4-0 lead.

It took Halep 31 minutes just to get on the board again but by this point, there was no reeling in last year’s junior Wimbledon runner-up.

Schunk took the showdown to a decider on her opponent’s 27th unforced error.

It was the final wake-up call Halep required.

She strung together five straight games and booked a clash with China’s Zheng Qinwen on her fifth ace.

Key stats

Seeded at No.19, Halep entered the match outside the top 10 seeds at Roland-Garros for the first time since 2013.

She had not fallen in the opening round of a major since the 2018 US Open to Kaia Kanepi and avoided that same fate on the back of 70 per cent of first-serve points won to the German’s 55 per cent.

Halep’s 43 per cent of points won on second serves was 7 per cent inferior to her opponent’s but she was more effective at the crunch, winning half her 10 break points to Schunk's four from 13.

What the winner said

“Last year I didn’t play, so I really missed it. I'm actually happy with the victory, even if it was difficult.

“She was playing super well in the second set. She was hitting the ball strong and I didn’t have a response. In the end I stayed focused and stayed strong, and I’m really happy I finished this match. It’s always tough the first round.

“Play better next round – this is my goal. I’m just focusing on that. I just want to give my best every time I step on the court and to fight as I did today.”

Simona Halep, Nastasja Schunk, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT