Wimbledon champion, Simona Halep attempts to win back-to-back matches for the first time since the Rogers Cup in Toronto when she plays Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova in the second round of the China Open on Monday.
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The highest point of Halep’s season remains that wonderful triumph at Wimbledon, where she produced one of her greatest ever performances to take out Serena Williams in the final, but the former world No. 1 has struggled for form and fitness since then.
She reached the quarter finals at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, but her title defence ended prematurely when she retired from her last eight meeting with Czech, Marie Bouzkova due to a left leg injury. Halep recovered in time to play Cincinnati, but she won one match each in Cincinnati and the US Open, losing to Madison Keys, and Taylor Townsend respectively. It was a similar story in Wuhan, where she defeated Barbora Strycova before exiting in the next round after retiring against Elena Rybakina with a lower back injury.
Again, she has made a swift return from that problem, scoring an impressive 6-1 6-1 victory over Nanchang champion, Rebecca Peterson in her Beijing opener on Sunday.
The Romanian is hoping to win her second title of the season in Beijing, adding to her Wimbledon triumph. She made finals in Doha and Madrid earlier in the year, as well as semi-finals in Miami, and the quarter finals at Roland Garros. 2019 hasn’t been her best year, but it has not been far from a terrible campaign from the former world No. 1.
Halep made the Beijing final in 2017, but she left the 2018 tournament after just one round, retiring from her opening match against Ons Jabeur with a back injury, which prevented her from playing for the rest of the year.
She is again under an injury cloud this year, having quit with a back problem in Wuhan last week. Is she fit enough to launch another deep run this week? The world No. 6 continues her campaign against Alexandrova on Monday.
24-year-old Alexandrova is having the best year of her career, building on her strong finish to 2018, when she reached a maiden tour-level final in Linz, and captured the WTA 125K title in Limoges in November.
She has made two more semi-finals this year- in Budapest in February and more recently in Seoul- and has broken into the top-40 for the first time.
Currently ranked 39th in the world, Alexandrova has also made quarter finals in St. Petersburg, s-Hertogenbosch and Eastbourne, while she notably reached the third round at Indian Wells, Roland Garros and the Rogers Cup in Toronto. The Russian is 24-21 for the season, a vast improvement on her 6-12 record from the 2018 campaign.
Competing in Beijing for the first time, Alexandrova took out American, Bernarda Pera in her opening match on Sunday, recovering from the loss of the first set to win 5-7 6-2 6-4. The Russian dropped her serve twice in the first set, but she cleaned up her game after that, and did not concede any break points for the rest of the match. She won 78% of first serve points for the match, and had a solid 59% conversion rate on her second serve.
Alexandrova caused Halep problems in their only previous meeting in Cincinnati last month, leading by a set and a break, before losing to the Romanian in three sets. She has got one top-ten win under her belt, against Jelena Ostapenko in Seoul last season, and has definitely got the ability to trouble Halep yet again on Monday.
The two-time major winner dropped just two games in her tournament opener against Rebecca Peterson on Sunday, she will most likely face sterner resistance against Alexandrova in the second round.
Simona Halep vs Ekaterina Alexandrova is live from Beijing on Monday, 30 September from 3:30pm local time/ 8:30am BST