Halep races past ailing Petkovic

 - Sarah Edworthy

World No.1 Simona Halep continues her campaign with doughty win over Andrea Petkovic on Court 18.

Simona Halep continued her charge towards a third Roland-Garros final with a commanding 7-5 6-0 win over Andrea Petkovic on Saturday in front of a cacophonous bipartisan crowd.

The No.1 seed, who memorably led 6-4 3-0 with game point against Jelena Ostapenko in last year's final, kept her focus to combat the doughty first-set challenge of the hard-hitting German who had stunned the home crowd with her epic defeat of Kiki Mladenovic in the first round this year.

“I play better and better day by day,” Halep said. “Today I really felt the ball, and the game, also, and the way that I finished pretty strong gives me confidence. I can say it was my best match here at this tournament.”

Petkovic, ranked 107 in the world but a Top 10 player in 2011 and 2015, was herself one game away from an appearance in the 2014 Roland-Garros final when she lost to Halep in the semifinal that year. So there was history in this encounter out in the small, intimate suntrap of the new Court 18 and the first set was intense.

On paper, it was two players contesting a place in the last 16, but out on the velvety red clay, under the baking hot afternoon sun, the contest between two resistance fighters was amplified by their own aggressive shrieks of effort and a palpably febrile atmosphere.  The Romanian’s fans every chant of See-Mona, See-Mona echoed by the German’s supporters drumbeat intonation of Pet-Ko, Pet-ko, Pet-ko.  

This was a match of two sets, both literally and metaphorically. Petkovic is known to be bookish, listing Goethe and Oscar Wilde as her favourite authors. She came on court demonstrating the importance of being earnest in her aggressive intent to win point by point. The first set was a ferocious battle lasting 60 minutes. Halep had to work hard to earn the three set points it took to close out the opener. She broke in the ninth game to serve for a 1-0 lead, but Petkovic broke back to level at 5-5. Halep broke again and with the help of two lucky net cords patiently worked her way into a winning position.

Trailing 0-1 in the second set, Petkovic called the trainer and returned to the court with her right knee heavily bandaged. It was a ruptured meniscus of this right knee that nearly ended her career in 2013, and it was the following year that she stormed back to form and reached the semifinals here where she met Halep. Trailing 0-3, she ripped the dressing off at the changeover with some desperation. But when play resumed, she never recovered. The second set took under 30 minutes for Halep to claim game, set and match.

“I saw when she hurt herself. I just tried to keep my focus. It's always tough when you cut your rhythm a little bit, and it was a long five or six minutes,” Halep said. “I just kept playing how I did in first set but a little bit better in the end. I was happy with the performance, and I feel sorry for her that she got injured.”

Petkovic praised her opponent’s ability to make her run and run and run, and admitted she had found herself praying to God for rallies to finish. In a sure sign that she has settled into her No.1 world ranking, Halep agreed that players are now super-motivated when they play her.

“I was in that situation when I was younger and I was playing with the No. 1 in the world," she said. "You don't feel pressure, don't feel that you have anything to lose. So you go there and just give your best. It's good that I have opponents playing at the highest level, because I stay motivated, focused, and I don't relax on court.”

The world No.1 progresses to the last 16 where she will play No. 16 seed Elise Mertens, who beat Daria Gavrilova 6-3 6-1.