Former champion Simona Halep whittled the number of Russians left at the VTB Kremlin Cup from three to two with a 6-1, 7-6(4) victory over Veronika Kudermetova in Thursday's second round. 

Looking on course to repeat her 6-1, 6-3 win over Kudermetova from the Australian Open earlier this year, Halep opened up a 6-1, 3-1 lead over the World No.32 in well under an hour, but the 2013 champion in Moscow needed to work hard to win the match in straights and reach her fourth quarterfinal of the year. 

"It was a tough match. I knew that even if I won the first set, it was going to be a tough battle," Halep said on-court after the match. "I knew that she's a very powerful opponent and I had to stay very focused until the end.

"In the second set, she raised her level, definitely, and maybe I did some easy mistakes and wrong decisions. She played very well and it was really difficult to finish the match in two sets."

In a second set that lasted over an hour, neither player faced a break point in the last six games en route to the tiebreak. Halep led 4-2 at the change of ends before dropping the next two points, but regrouped to win the last three and seal the match. 

Ruling over Russians: By following up her first-round victory against Anastasia Potapova with a win against Kudermetova, Halep improved her record against Russian players to 5-1 this season and 42-20 in her career. She's the only Romanian player to have ever won the title in the Russian capital. 

Back into the last eight: Halep's quarterfinal berth in Moscowl is her first since the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in April. Her prior two came in her first two events of the year, the Gippsland Trophy and Australian Open.

However, back-to-back wins in Moscow have given the Romanian consecutive victories for just the second time since she returned from a calf injury in August.

Sakkari up next: Halep advances to a quarterfinal meeting with No.3 seed Maria Sakkari, who qualified for the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara with her own second-round win over another Russian, Anna Kalinskaya, via retirement on Thursday.

Read more: Maria Sakkari earns historic qualification for 2021 Akron WTA Finals Guadalajara

The pair have never played.

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simona halep
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maria sakkari
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Vondrousova downs Tsurenko to set quarterfinal with Pavlyuchenkova

Two French Open finalists will square off for a spot in the semifinals at the VTB Kremlin Cup after Marketa Vondrousova advanced to a meeting with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova thanks to a 6-3, 6-3 win over Lesia Tsurenko.

Photo by VTB Kremlin Cup

 

Vondrousova and Tsurenko were playing for the first time in three years, with the Ukrainian having won their only prior meeting: a dramatic three-setter in the fourth round of the 2018 US Open. In this meeting, however, the Czech was hardly under threat: from 2-2 in the first set, she won eight of the next 10 games.

Tsurenko, now down to World No.145 in the rankings after a two-plus year struggle as a result of an elbow injury, had successfully qualified in Moscow but was facing a Top 50 player for the first time in more than a year. Her first-round victory over China's Zheng Qinwen, another qualifier, was her first tour-level victory since the Winners Open in August.

Stats of the match: Both players hit 12 winners in 77 minutes, but it was a staggering 41 unforced errors that was Tsurenko's undoing. Forced off-balance often by Vondrousova's willingness to employ different spins and drop shots, the Ukrainian was unable to find a consistent rhythm and was broken five times.

First time, long time: Vondrousova and Pavlyuchenkova are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to past history at this tournament. The Czech is making her Moscow debut this week, while the Russian has reached the final on home soil three times, winning it all in 2014.  

However, Vondrousova holds the head-to-head edge against Pavlyuchenkova: the pair played for the first time just three weeks ago in Chicago, where the left-hander was a 6-3, 6-2 victor.