CINCINNATI, OH, USA - They're the two best performers of the year so far, they're the Top 2 on the Road To Singapore leaderboard, and they're about to clash at one of the biggest events of the year - Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep will square off at the Western & Southern Open on Friday.
"I didn't serve well today, but I think I served better in the important moments, so that's good," Halep said after the match. "Lucie is playing really well and her left-handed game is so amazing because she opens the angles very well. Her topspin is also on the other side, so it's difficult to return.
"But I played aggressive, and I played angles also. I tried to do my best."
The No.5-seeded Sharapova had to rally from a break down three times in the second set but got her own win in a tight two-setter, beating her countrywoman, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-4, 7-6(2).
"I had a tough opponent, considering I lost to her in the beginning of the year," Sharapova said. "I was happy to get my revenge in Stuttgart, but I knew coming into this one she's an aggressive player and I had to try and take that away from her. I'm happy I was able to win the match in two sets."
Those battles set up another big battle between Sharapova and Halep, who are No.1 and No.2 on the Road To Singapore leaderboard, the year-long journey to the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. And there isn't that much separating them there either - just 116 points.
Sharapova has beaten Halep in all four of their previous meetings, though both of their 2014 meetings have been three-setters, first the Madrid final then an absolute epic in the French Open final.
"We've played on hard, but a long time ago. Our last few matches have been on clay courts, so this will be a pretty new encounter," Sharapova said. "We know each other's game very well because we played quite recently in the middle of the season. She's had one of the best seasons in her career. Obviously being No.2 in the world is a really big achievement. It will definitely be a tough match."
"She's a great player," Halep said. "She's playing very well, so it will be a big challenge for me. I want to play against her because I want to see if on hard she will beat me again. But I just want to try my game, to play very aggressive, to open the angles like always, and also to stay very focused."
Elsewhere, No.1 seed Serena Williams cruised past No.13 seed Flavia Pennetta, 6-2, 6-2, No.4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska beat Sabine Lisicki, 6-1, 6-1, No.8 seed Jelena Jankovic saved a set point in the first set en route to a 7-6(4), 6-4 win over Sloane Stephens and No.9 seed Ana Ivanovic battled past Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3. The only upset of the day session saw WTA Rising Star Elina Svitolina keep her big week going with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over No.15 seed Carla Suárez Navarro.