DOHA, Qatar - 2014 Qatar Total Open champion Simona Halep shook off a slow start to survive tricky Latvian Anastasija Sevastova, 6-4, 6-3, keeping her hopes of regaining the No.1 ranking alive this week in Doha.
"It feels great," Halep said during her on-court interview. "It's a great feeling that I could win this match. It's never easy to play against her because she's a great player. I was a little bit nervous, but it was a pleasure to play here on Centre Court and maybe play some of my best tennis."
With Halep's win on Thursday, the pressure is on top seed Caroline Wozniacki, who edged past Monica Niculescu later in the day, to remain on equal footing with the Romanian. Should Halep finish the tournament with one win more than the Dane, she will reclaim the top spot she lost after the Australian Open on Monday's rankings.
"I don't have any idea about the points," Halep admitted. "I know that there is like 300, or it was at the beginning of the tournament. But I'm not thinking about that. I just want to play my matches and to win them."
Taking on Sevastova, Halep had won four of their five previous encounters, but had to rally from an early break to take the opening set and battled through a tense second set to surge over the finish line after 65 minutes on court.
"I can say that it was a little bit better," she explained during post-match press. "I felt the ball a little bit better. But you know, it's a different opponent, so it's always tough to compare the matches. But the most important thing that I can win the match. It was not easy. We had some important moments during the match. So I'm really glad that I could finish it in two sets and play like I played. I mean I'm really pleased with the way I played today and very confident."
In all, she struck 29 winners to 21 unforced errors, and converted five of eight break point opportunities to reach her first Doha quarterfinal since 2014. That year, she earned three straight Top 10 wins over Sara Errani, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Angelique Kerber to capture her first Premier 5 title.
"It was the biggest tournament that I'd won at the time," she recalled. "It meant a lot, gave me confidence that I could be at the top. Since then, I went up more and more, and now I'm here, making another quarterfinals in Doha."
Up next for the three-time Grand Slam finalist is surprise quarterfinalist Catherine "CiCi" Bellis, who earned her first career Top 5 victory over Karolina Pliskova earlier in the day.
"I feel old!" Halep joked about the 18-year-old American. "She's very good. I saw her playing a few times, not today but in the past. I feel that she's moving pretty well. She's hitting fast. She tries to be aggressive, close to the baseline. So I will see tomorrow. I never played against her. I never practiced with her. So it's going to be a new thing, new challenge. But I'm ready, and I feel that I have just to do my game, not thinking about anything else."
With a second title of 2018 on the line for Halep, she'll try to stay focused and fight off the lure of the Souq Wasif, the city's most famous souvenir market.
"I'm very focused on the tournament. I'm waiting to finish here, and then I'll go shopping. I need to buy some presents for myself!"