Playing her first match in more than four weeks, WTA Rising Star Simona Halep made a winning return to the courts with a win over a former Wimbledon semifinalist.
WTA Staff

CINCINNATI, OH, USA - WTA Rising Star Simona Halep made a winning return to the courts after four weeks off on Tuesday night, taking out Kirsten Flipkens in her Western & Southern Open opener.

Watch highlights, interviews and more video from Cincinnati right here on!

Playing her first match since winning her second WTA title of the year on home soil in Bucharest four weeks ago, there were some tense moments, as Flipkens cut a 5-1 deficit in the first set to 5-4 and even had a point to even things to 5-all. But the No.2-seeded Halep tightened the screws just in time, closing the set out and then cruising through the second set to close out a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

It's a special week for Halep - on Monday she rose to a new career-high of No.2 in the world, trailing just Serena Williams. She's also No.2 on the Road To Singapore leaderboard, the year-long journey to the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, trailing only Maria Sharapova.

That was one of three second round matches Tuesday, after the No.5-seeded Sharapova beat Madison Keys, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, and No.12 seed Caroline Wozniacki took out Zhang Shuai, 6-2, 6-3.

Sharapova had some very kind words for WTA Rising Star Keys in her post-match presser.

"For a 19-year-old to be serving in the 120s is really impressive," Sharapova said. "I'm sure when she develops the consistency in the serve it's going to be an important factor. But to have the strength and power to be able to do that is great. I'm really quite impressed. She's done very well this year."

Last year, this was Sharapova's last match of the season - after falling to Sloane Stephens in her opening match here, she didn't play again until Brisbane due to a right shoulder injury. But that was not on the five-time Grand Slam champion and former World No.1's mind on the court against Keys.

"I didn't think about it too much, actually," the Russian said. "So that was good."

The last dozen first round matches also took the court with three more seeds in action, and all three of them pulled out three-setters - No.14 seed Sara Errani battled two hours and 44 minutes to edge Belgian qualifier Yanina Wickmayer, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(2), No.15 seed Carla Suárez Navarro beat Tsvetana Pironkova, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2, and No.16 seed Lucie Safarova edged Venus Williams, 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4.

Williams was coming off a spirited run to the final of the Rogers Cup in Montréal, where she took out marquee names Angelique Kerber and Serena Williams en route, falling to Agnieszka Radwanska.

Stephens, Ekaterina MakarovaSvetlana Kuznetsova, Sabine Lisicki, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, Kurumi Nara, qualifiers Zarina Diyas and Annika Beck and US wildcard Christina McHale also won.