MELBOURNE, Australia – WTA World No.3 Simona Halep progressed through the second round of the Australian Open with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over qualifier Harriet Dart.
It was the Romanian’s 90th win Grand Slam competition but was not achieved with the ease that the scoreline might suggest, with Dart able to trouble the Wimbledon champion, though not consistently enough to worry her.
Halep, who was seeking back-to-back victories for the first time since August, was efficient early on, winning three of three break points in the first set before racing out to a 4-0 lead in the second, which proved unassailable, despite a sterling effort from her opponent.
Dart, meanwhile, was seeking to banish the memory of her only previous outing at Rod Laver Arena, when she was defeated 6-0, 6-0 by Maria Sharapova in 2019’s first round. With the experience of reaching the last 32 of Wimbledon behind her, she looked more at home on the show court and was competitive until the last.
"It was not easy at all," Halep said. "Even if she doesn't hit very hard, she has good angles. Her ball doesn't have that much power to play against. I had to work a little bit more.
"I was leading pretty well at 5-1. But then, I don't know what happened, I lost focus a little bit and she started to play freely. She didn't miss that much. I played a little bit short. Then she controlled me a little bit.
"But I'm happy that I could hold that last game. That was important."
The tone of the match was set in the first game, in which Dart showed flashes of quality but was ultimately undone by the relentless defence of her rival. Having held game point, the Brit was broken after hitting a backhand into the net then going long.
The 23-year-old broke back to love by employing a couple of fine dropshots only for Halep to accelerate away as her opponent was unable to consistently match the quality of the No.4 seed.
Trailing 5-2, Dart fought to earn a break point but the former WTA World No.1 remained focused and turned the situation around to seal the set.
Halep was quick to hammer down her advantage in the second, establishing a 4-0 advantage thanks to a deft drop to break in the opening game, then taking the third after Dart had saved three break points.
The WTA World No.164, who had beaten Misaki Doi in two hours 49 minutes in the first round, once again showed plenty of spirit from a difficult position. A positive backhand down the line brought her to 5-2, and when faced with a match point she won four successive points to break Halep for a second time.
A fine angled backhand brought her to within a game of the former WTA World No.1 but she had left her rally too late as Halep, who is now 6-0 in Australian Open second round matches, served out at the second attempt to seal victory on her third match point in one hour and 18 minutes, setting up a third-round tussle with either No.26 seed Danielle Collins or Yulia Putintseva.