LONDON, Great Britain - Former French Open champion Simona Halep kept up her Wimbledon consistency on Wednesday, knocking out fellow Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the third round at the All England Club for the fifth time in six years, where fellow former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka awaits.
"I think I'm playing okay," Halep said after the match. "It's always tough on grass, but it was a tougher match than first one, so it was good that I could win it. Also I had tough moments during this match. I lost the second set when I was leading the set. Then I just had to fight till the end and for every ball, which I'm really happy that I did. I felt confident on court. I felt also strong mentally."
The 2014 semifinalist has reached the second week of Wimbledon three times - including back-to-back quarterfinal runs in 2016 and 2017 - and put herself one win away from a return trip to the fourth round after a topsy-turvy one hour and 51 minutes on No.2 Court.
Fed Cup teammates, Halep and Buzarnescu played just once before at an ITF Pro Circuit event back in 2008, two months after the former won her maiden junior Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. The two have taken wildly different trajectories since then, with Buzarnescu struggling with injuries before enjoying a sudden surge in 2018, where she reached three WTA finals and won her first title at the Mudabala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose.
She incurred an ankle injury playing the Coupe Rogers shortly thereafter, and has been looking for that same level ever since, though she posted a solid win over Jessica Pegula to start the fortnight at SW19.
Halep was fresh off an impressive victory against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, and weathered an early flurry of breaks to gain the ascendency to start, holding for 5-3 and breaking serve for a fourth time to take the opening set.
"It's a little bit tough when you come from clay court, but this year I had more time to get ready for the grass. It's totally different, the game. I cannot slide here as I like on clay court. You don't have that much time to think about the shots. You have to be very fast, a little bit to block the balls when the opponents are hitting strong. So is different.
"I'm trying just to improve in this way. Today I did not go to the net at all, but my goal is to do that."
More momentum shifts followed in the second as Buzarnescu clawed back from another 0-2 deficit to take a lead for the first time in the match, winning four straight games behind some feathery dropshots and stab volleys.
Halep ended the streak following a protracted break triggered by a spectator falling ill, leveling the set as a Buzarnescu backhand floated wide. Buzarnescu nonetheless regained her form and broke her compatriot once more and forced a third set.
Still, the No.7 seed shrugged off her dip in form to take a bright start in the decider, putting down two strong service holds with a break in between to lead 3-0, and just as Buzarnescu threatened one last comeback, the former World No.1 stepped in to win the final three games of the match, sealing it on a stunning forehand passing shot.
In all, she hit 11 winners to 19 unforced errors, and while Buzarnescu struck more winners, she also hit more errors, with 25 to 44 by match's end.
Up next for Halep is a second Wimbledon meeting with Azarenka in three years, with the former winning their last match back in 2017 in what was the Belarusian's second tournament after giving birth to son, Leo. Their head-to-head is tied at two wins apiece, with Halep winning their last two matches, both here and back in 2015 in the US Open quarterfinals.
"It's going to be a big challenge for me, tough one, because she's playing not very flat but she's very aggressive. So on grass it's not that easy.
"I am confident I have my chance and for sure I will win it. I want to win badly every match I play."