INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - For the last 10 months Simona Halep has been soaring up the rankings with her unbelievable talents, but at the BNP Paribas Open she's now showing off something else - an unshakable fighting spirit. For the second straight match she came back from the brink of defeat, following up her razor thin win over Lucie Safarova with a squeaker against Eugenie Bouchard.
Two days ago Halep had to rally from a break down twice in the third set to edge Safarova, and this time the situation was more critical - after winning the first set, 6-2, she watched on as Bouchard ran off six games in a row to run away with the second set, 6-1, and break for a 4-3 lead in the third.
But the No.6-seeded Halep didn't stutter, and she didn't crumble - just the opposite, actually - she broke right back, held then broke one more time to make it past the No.18-seeded Bouchard, 62 16 64.
"I knew she's a great player and playing really well, so I just tried to do my game, play aggressive and play fast," Halep said afterwards. "It wasn't my best tennis today, but I was fighting a lot. I did well. I think I came back in the third set really well. I did everything I could do during the match today.
"She's improving tournament by tournament so I'm really happy that I won this match."
"She was very, very solid," Bouchard said. "I expected a good player, but I think she has a really good defense - that's a weapon of hers. It really puts pressure on her opponents to finish the point. She has a lot of experience too - she's won a lot of titles and has been there in that third set battling.
"She was a break down and came up with some great tennis. She played very well."
Halep is now through to the quarterfinals of a Premier Mandatory event for the first time. It's the second-biggest quarterfinal of her career, after her Australian Open quarterfinal from earlier this year.
Waiting for Halep in that quarterfinal is Australian qualifier Casey Dellacqua, who advanced through after Lauren Davis was forced to withdraw before their match because of a gastrointestinal illness.
Dellacqua is now in by far the biggest quarterfinal of her career. She has been to the quarterfinals or better twice before at WTA events, but both were International events (falling to Eleni Daniilidou in the quarterfinals of Hobart in 2008 and to Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals of Dallas in 2012).
Halep and Dellacqua will be playing against each other for the first time.
"She's lefty, and it's not easy to play with a lefty because usually we play right-handed players," Halep commented. "I don't know her. I never played against her. I think it will be a surprise for me.
"But Safarova was also a lefty, so I have experience this tournament with lefty players."