CINCINNATI, OH, USA - In a battle between the Top 2 players on the Road To Singapore leaderboard at the Western & Southern Open, it was No.1 who came out on top as Maria Sharapova defeated Simona Halep to book her place in the semifinals.
While her rivals at the top of the rankings were limbering up for the summer hardcourt season, Halep was beginning her US Open preparations with a well-earned holiday in Turkey. This inactivity certainly did not dull her competitive instincts. On Thursday, she produced two tough sets of tennis to see off Lucie Safarova and earn the chance for revenge over her French Open conqueror, Sharapova.
The Turning Point
Just as she had during their epic final in Paris, Sharapova was forced to draw on all her reserves of fighting spirit to make it across the finishing line, coming from a set and a break down to triumph, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, after over two and a half hours on court.
With neither player locating their A-game in the opening set, it was Halep's ability to get one more ball back in court that proved the difference, teasing enough errors from the Russian's racquet to keep her nose in front. Sensing her moment, she jumped into a 2-0 lead in the second.
Sharapova's powers of recovery are legendary, and with her back to the wall she came out swinging, bludgeoning three straight winners in the next game to break back. Having finally found her range, she slowly started to get the better of Halep in the rallies, breaking decisively in the seventh game before overcoming a late wobble to level the match up on her fourth set point.
The final set produced the best tennis of the contest, but as the finale approached, it was Halep that blinked. A loose game at 4-4 handed Sharapova the opportunity to serve out the match, completing victory when Halep fired a backhand fractionally beyond the baseline.
The reward for this comeback, which extends her unbeaten record over Halep to five matches, is a meeting with Ana Ivanovic, who brushed aside Elina Svitolina, 6-2, 6-3. Sharapova has won eight of the pair's 11 meetings, although Ivanovic did triumph in the most recent of these, earlier this year on the clay in Rome.