World No.1 Simona Halep laid concerns over her ankle injury to rest with a straight-sets victory over Eugenie Bouchard in the second round of the Australian Open.
Alex Macpherson
January 18, 2018

MELBOURNE, Australia - No.1 seed Simona Halep allayed fears over the ankle injury sustained in her first-round match with a dominant 6-2, 6-2 defeat of unseeded Eugenie Bouchard in 65 minutes to move into the third round of the Australian Open.

It was the 26-year-old's third victory in four meetings over her Canadian opponent - though they had not played since 2014, the year both players cracked the Top 10 for the first time.

Since then, their paths had diverged. Halep ascended to World No.1 in October and maintained her grasp on the top spot by taking the Shenzhen Open title in the first week of 2018; Bouchard came into the Australian Open on a six-match losing streak, having fallen out of the Top 100 for the first time since April 2013.

In the opening stages, it was clear that the World No.112 was intent on testing her rival's movement. Halep had gone over on her ankle during the second set of her first-round win over Destanee Aiava, and there had been fears about her ability to take to the court again.

Yet within a few games, it was apparent that the Romanian's elite foot speed had not been compromised. A brilliant point in the third game saw Halep scampering up, down and side to side as she chased down a sequence of Bouchard bombs, eventually finishing with a scorching forehand of her own.

Time and again, the Canadian No.1 engaged her opponent in sharply angled rallies, but more often than not it was Halep who emerged on top of them. Meanwhile, the Romanian was executing her own tactics with a clear head: giving Bouchard no pace to work with on the backhand side, but testing the former World No.5's erratic forehand side with depth and spin.

"I still feel pain," Halep acknowledged afterwards about her ankle. "Also I couldn't practice much. But during the match, I just forgot about it. The most important thing is that I could play my game not thinking about the ankle."

It was that wing that let Bouchard down the most over the course of the match. Fifteen of her 23 unforced errors came from that side, which Halep would routinely break down by stretching the 23-year-old out wide. By contrast, the two-time Roland Garros runner-up was accurate and aggressive with that stroke, landing nine of her 16 winners with it.

When in full flow, Halep seemed able to hare across the court and hammer down-the-line winners on the run at will.

"I just wanted to open the court, to stay closer to the baseline, to play a little bit more aggressive, which I did," she said afterwards. "Also to try to finish the points down the line, which I did pretty well with the backhand today."

If Halep had a weakness, it came on serve: she was broken twice in the first set and once in the second, with room for improvement evident both in her first serve percentage - which was an average 57% - and her ability to win behind her second serve, which dipped to just 50%. Today, though, that was counterbalanced by her opponent's own poor serving.

Bouchard committed two double faults, won just 25% of the points behind her second delivery, and ultimately held serve only once - in the third game of the second set.

It was at that point that the Canadian might have made a charge of her own - but instead, Halep responded in true No.1 fashion, by reeling off five games in a row, during which she faced just one further game point against her, to take the match and set up a third-round date with Lauren Davis.

Indeed, Halep said that not being 100% physically might even help her going forwards.

"I don't feel pressure," she claimed. "I feel a little bit more relaxed because I have nothing to lose. I'm just trying to stay focused on my game, nothing else. Definitely to be careful with the movement on the court, not forcing anything. I'm just going there and feeling the ball."