Simona Halep is yet to complete an outright win in Wuhan. Can she get her first against Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova? They face off in the third round of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open at 12 noon local time (5am BST.)
World no. 2 at the beginning of the year, Romania's Halep has not left the elite realms of tennis since her breakout season of 2013. In that time, the determined talent has seen the heights of a Grand Slam final, claimed multiple Premier trophies, and event thrashed Serena Williams: 6-0 6-2 at the 2014 WTA Finals.
Still, the dominant American's recent loss of the WTA top spot has instilled a new confidence in the now 25-year-old Halep – who is currently 8-1 down in her head-to-head record with the American.
“It's much easier to believe in yourself when you see that Serena is not there [at the top] any more, winning every tournament and being number one in the world for years,” Halep said at the Wuhan Open. “I feel that everything, it's open now. I feel that everyone has a chance to win a big tournament, to reach the number one, if we believe.”
In Wuhan – where Williams is not present, and where new world no. 1 Angelique Kerber leads the field – Halep is indeed showing confidence. She has, after all, beaten Kerber multiple times, including just a couple of months ago. Why should she not be confident?
All the same, the no. 4 seed must be careful. Her opening showing was efficient, but the eventual victory came via retirement – Irina-Camelia Begu trailing 6-3 2-0 when she pulled the plug on the match. Halep spent just one hour and eight minutes on court, and should have plenty of energy for a clash with highly-talented Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova.
Much accomplished in doubles, Wimbledon finalist Shvedova should be much higher ranked in singles. Her skill with the slice is something to behold, and her feel for the ball makes for some excellent hot execution. She showed this talent at both Wimbledon and the US Open, where she reached the quarter-finals and fourth round, respectively. Both times, it took a Williams sister to halt her progress: Venus in London, and Serena in New York. Wuhan is the first time the world no. 41 has played since that 6-2 6-3 Flushing Meadows loss, and she has got right back to business. A 6-0 6-3 thrashing of Saisai Zheng in round one preceded a 7-5 6-2 upset of another unconventional player: no. 13 seed Roberta Vinci. The last time that a Shvedova win did not come in straight sets was in the second round of Wimbledon. Counter-punching Halep should not underestimate this slick opponent.
If she can recall their only previous meeting, then the Romanian will surely know to be wary of this experienced pro. In the first round of the Olympic Games in 2012, Yaroslava Shvedova was a 6-4 6-2 victor over Halep on the courts of Wimbledon. Nevertheless, it was only in the following season that the latter woman bolted from the virtual blue, gaining and consolidating her place at the heights of the sport. Shvedova will meet a far different Simona Halep to the one she faced four years ago on Wednesday.
Simona Halep and Yaroslava Shvedova face off at 12 noon local time (5am BST.)