SHENZHEN, China - World No.1 Simona Halep cruised past teenage sensation Aryna Sabalenka to reach the semifinals of the Shenzhen Open in under an hour on Thursday, 6-2, 6-2.
Needing just 57 minutes to dispatch the fast-rising Belarusian in their first career meeting, the 2015 champion set up a semifinal match against compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu, who defeated Timea Babos in Thursday’s first quarterfinal, 7-5, 7-5.
Striking 11 winners to a tidy five unforced errors, Halep used smart counterpunching to edge one of the WTA’s biggest hitters for the second straight day, after pulling off a three-set comeback against China’s Duan Ying-Ying in Wednesday’s second round.
“I know [Sabalenka] is hitting really strong and really hard, but I was very strong in my legs and I could block every ball and I could also open the court,” Halep assessed post-match.
“It’s not easy to do that when you play against a big hitter, but I did everything today and I feel I played great.”
The Romanian nearly matched Sabalenka in total winners, as the Belarusian hit 12 in 14 games, but the 19-year-old was undone by a total of 22 unforced errors which allowed Halep four breaks of serve in the match.
The top seed got off on the right foot in the quarterfinal victory, earning a pair of breaks to lead 3-0 by the first sit-down. Though Halep surrendered her first, and only, service game to the World No.73 in the next game, she quickly rebounded by winning eight of the next nine points to restore a double-break advantage.
Sabalenka showed her mettle by saving a set point in the seventh game, denying Halep her third straight to hold from deuce, but the World No.1 wrapped up the opener in short order with her first ace of the match.
Sabalenka stayed with Halep to begin the second set, saving a break point in the first game and holding twice in the early action, but the World No.1 quickly moved into another gear over the course of five straight games.
Breaking Sabalenka’s serve twice more, Halep cruised into her first semifinal of the season as she lost just two points on serve in the set.
The 2015 champion in Shenzhen, Halep is looking to become the second player to win a pair of titles in the Chinese city in the brief history of the event. Two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na won the inaugural Shenzhen Open in 2013, and successfully defended her crown in 2014.
“I’m still far to win the title. Tomorrow is going to be a tough match. It’s going to be a nice match,” Halep said. “It’s a nice match because we are both Romanian. We will see what will happen tomorrow but I’m ready to fight for my match. We last played singles a long time ago but I believe I have my chance.
“Of course, I will give everything I have, I will try to win as I always try to win. I’m enjoying playing here in Shenzhen.”
The two Romanians, also in the doubles semifinals together, have played five times overall since 2007. Halep holds a perfect 5-0 head-to-head advantage, and Begu has managed to win just one set overall in their meetings.
“We know each other too well and it’s always going to be a tough match,” Begu said of Halep. “[Today] is big victory early in the year and I’m happy to be the first semifinalist in the tournament. I hope I can do well tomorrow.”