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Simona sets the tone: Halep solves Zhang puzzle to lead the way into the Wimbledon 2019 semifinals

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 9 Jul 2019
  • Simona Halep is into the semifinals of Wimbledon 2019
  • Halep trailed 1-4 before defeating Zhang Shuai 7-6(4), 6-1
  • The seventh seed's first appearance in Wimbledon semifinals for five years
Simona Halep celebrates reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon (PA Sports)

Simona Halep leads the way into the Wimbledon semifinals after comeback victory over Zhang Shuai.

Seventh seed Simona Halep trailed 1-4 in the first set before coming back to beat Zhang Shuai 7-6(4), 6-1 and reach the semifinals of Wimbledon for the second time.

The former world no. 1 avoided a third straight defeat to Zhang, who had won their last two encounters in straight sets.

Halep has not reached the semifinals at Wimbledon since 2014, when she lost to Eugenie Bouchard, although she made the quarterfinals in 2016-17, losing to Angelique Kerber and Johanna Konta respectively.

Simona Halep in action on Tuesday (PA Sports)
She also hasn't made the semifinals of a major since winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open over a year ago. In the intervening time she has gone through a problematic back injury and a change of coaches, and slid down the rankings to her current world no. 7 after losing in straight sets to unseeded teenager Amanda Anisimova in the quarterfinals of the French Open.

But Halep hasn't dropped a set since a three-set victory over compatriot Mihaela Buzarnescu in the second round, and announced her intentions with a statement win over former world no. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the third before avoiding the potential second-week banana skin of another unseeded teenager, Coco Gauff, in Monday's fourth-round match, which saw Halep end the 15-year-old qualifier's incredible run 6-3, 6-3.

Zhang Shuai, for her part, has beaten some impressive opponents herself, ousting 23rd seed Caroline Garcia, 14th seed Caroline Wozniacki and rising Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska to reach her second Grand Slam quarterfinal. And she had won her last two matches against Halep in one-sided straight sets, 6-4, 6-3 and 6-0, 6-3.

Both matches were in 2016 (the last time Zhang made a major quarterfinal) and the first Chinese woman since Li Na in 2013 to reach a Wimbledon quarterfinal started brightly, racing to a 3-0 lead with deep, precise hitting that bullied Halep around the court, pushed her back from the baseline and saw the Romanian player constantly forced on to the back foot. Even when Halep got on the board, holding from 15-30 to narrow the gap to 1-3, Zhang pushed ahead 4-1.

Zhang Shuai (PA Sports)
It was in the next game that the match really swung as Halep had to save four break points in a six-deuce mini-battle, eventually getting the hard-fought hold for 2-4. From then on, Halep succeeded in getting the match played much more on her terms, in longer cross-court baseline exchanges instead of Zhang dominating. She cracked a big return winner to set up break point and got back on serve as Zhang, presumably in fear of her next second delivery meeting with the same treatment, double-faulted.

Zhang would find herself two points from the set with Halep serving at 5-6, but a couple of crucial errors cost her and although she managed to peg Halep back from a mini-break twice in the ensuing tie-break, Halep eventually took the crucial lead as she pummelled Zhang from the baseline and then sealed the set with a brutal forehand down the line,

Halep never looked back in the second set, breaking to lead 3-1 and taking a double-break lead after a bold second-serve return on to Zhang's shoelaces got a forehand error from the Chinese player. The world no. 7 closed out the victory in 99 minutes.

'I fought hard in the first set, even if I knew I was 4-1 and she was hitting hard, but I knew I would have to play aggressively and I did it great,' Halep tells the BBC.

'I have energy, I feel fresh and confident and I am perhaps playing my best tennis on grass.'

Halep will face eighth seed Elina Svitolina or the unseeded Karolina Muchova in Thursday's semifinals. Neither player has ever made a Wimbledon semifinal before. 

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Simona sets the tone: Halep solves Zhang puzzle to lead the way into the Wimbledon 2019 semifinals

Simona Halep came back from 1-4 down in the first set to beat Zhang Shuai 7-6(4), 6-1 and book her place in the semifinals of Wimbledon 2019

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