CINCINNATI, OH, USA - No.2 seed Simona Halep moved into the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open on Friday, claiming a challenging win over World No.7 Johanna Konta, 6-4, 7-6(1).
The most recent meeting between Halep and Konta was a two-and-a-half-hour marathon at Wimbledon, which Konta won in three tough sets, preventing Halep from ascending to the World No.1 ranking at that time. On Friday night, Halep avenged that loss in one hour and 49 minutes, keeping her hopes alive of attaining the top ranking on Monday.
"Today I played the best match so far this tournament. I could hit the ball. I could move well," Halep said. "I feel the rhythm. It's back, so I'm positive again. I'm on it again. I feel good, and I feel thankful with the way I played tonight. It was really good."
Konta started the match swinging freely, hitting blistering return winners, including one on break point, to capture the first break of the match for a 2-1 lead. From there, Halep began to find her range on her groundstrokes, and immediately broke back and held in two tough games for a 3-2 advantage.
From there, it seemed as though the Romanian had wrested control of the set, using her speed and cracking aggressive returns of her own to break for 4-2, and surviving three consecutive break points for a 5-2 lead. But Konta held at love, and then broke the World No.2 on her third chance to get back on serve, saving a set point in the process.
In the next game, however, exceptional defense by Halep coupled with a handful of Konta unforced errors gave Halep three more set points, and she just needed one to take the first set 6-4, as another of the Brit’s forehands went long.
Konta had at least one break point in each of Halep’s service games in the set, but could only convert two out of the 10 she held, and was undone by 16 unforced errors to Halep’s nine.
After an exchange of breaks to open the second set, a strong return followed by a crosscourt forehand winner on break point gave Halep a 3-1 lead, and after a quick hold, Halep had won four games in a row to seemingly take command of the match. When Halep reached double match point serving at 5-3, it appeared that the second seed was headed for a surprisingly swift victory.
But both match points fell by the wayside, and Konta eventually held two break points in the game, the second of which was converted thanks to a strong service return forcing a backhand error. Suddenly, the set was back on serve.
Serving at 5-5, Halep once again found herself down double break point, but was able to regroup and hold serve thanks to an ace on her first game point.
Konta then quickly fell behind 0-40 while serving at 6-5, giving Halep triple match point. All were erased, including one via a second serve ace, and the players struggled through the game until Halep hit a backhand long on Konta's third game point to set up an unexpected tiebreak.
"I was upset but in a good way. I think I motivated myself, also the tough moments that I had after she came back at 5-all and also 6-5, 0-40, but then I could finish the tiebreak so strong, so everything is fine," the Romanian said. "I didn't wait, like, the mistake or something like this. I just took it. I knew she could stay there. She's very strong. I said that if I feel my legs, I'm stronger, so I have just to be there and to push her back and to hit the balls."
With all of the twists and turns in the final stretch of the match, it felt like the tiebreak would be similarly circuitous. But it was a straightforward affair, starting when Konta dropped her first two service points with miscues near the net to hand Halep a 3-0 lead.
Konta then missed a forehand wide and double faulted on her next two service points, giving Halep a 6-1 lead and five more match points. She only needed one, as a forehand winner slid past Konta to seal the victory.
Halep, the 2015 Cincinnati runner-up, will now take on resurgent American wild card Sloane Stephens in tomorrow’s semifinals. Halep holds a 4-2 lead in their head-to-head, including a straight-set victory in the first round of Washington earlier this summer.
"The match in Washington wasn't easy at all. First set was really tough, and the second set, as well. I just got the lead and then was a little bit easier for me," Halep assessed. "I expect very tough one. It is always tough to play against her. Her forehand, it's strong, big. She's serving well.
"I just have, in my opinion, to be like today with the desire of winning with confidence and positive things. I can't do anything else - just go there and play my best, trying to play my best."