MELBOURNE, Australia - Former World No.1 Simona Halep returned to the second week of the Australian Open for a third straight year, dispatching an in-form Yulia Putintseva, 6-1, 6-4.
Putintseva had upset 2019 semifinalist Danielle Collins in the previous round but Halep, twice a Grand Slam champion and runner-up in Melbourne two years ago, was unmoved on Rod Laver Arena, advancing in one hour and 18 minutes.
"I expected this kind of match," Halep told the media. "I knew how she's playing, but she played a little bit stronger with the forehand than I expected. I knew that I had to attack her serve, to serve well, because she's hitting the return well.
"I think I have improved in my serve. Also the return looks pretty good. I go to the net. I have some dropshots included in my game, so it's a big step. I'm happy with my game."
Halep had been pushed to the limit in the first set of her first round against Jennifer Brady, but only got stronger from there, and hadn't dropped a set during the fortnight to book a clash with Putintseva, a two-time Roland Garros quarterfinalist. The Kazakh enjoyed a strong week that saw her knock out dangerous floater Hsieh Su-Wei - who had upset Halep at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships - before ending Collins' strong start to 2020 in three titanic sets.
The Romanian proved a much stronger challenger for Putintseva, as the No.4 seed emerged from an early exchange of breaks to take a 5-1 lead and serve out the opening set on her second opportunity.
The second set saw a similar momentum shift as Halep and Putintseva broke one another before Halep took control, sealing the match as a dropshot from the Kazakh fell into the net.
It was an aggressive day for Halep, who struck 26 winners to 15 unforced errors, while Putintseva made the same number of errors but just 13 winners. Playing strong tennis on crucial points, she converted five of nine break point opportunities and only lost serve once in each set, dropping just nine points on her first serve.
Standing between the Romanian and a spot in the quarterfinals is the 2018 semifinalist Elise Mertens.
"We have played many times, so it's enough to know how she's playing and what I have to do against her," said Halep. "I will be ready for the match. And I have to fight. Even if she's playing great, I will be there ready to play. She's fights until the end, she never gives up. She has a good game, like she plays fast, close to the baseline."