LONDON, Great Britain - For the third tournament in a row, Simona Halep has the opportunity to take the No.1 ranking for the first time in her career.
The Romanian would have risen to the summit had she won her Roland Garros final against Jelena Ostapenko - or had she progressed further than current No.1 Angelique Kerber in Eastbourne (both lost in the quarterfinals). But at the All England Club, it's a three-woman competition to emerge on top of the rankings - and Karolina Pliskova's shock second-round loss to Magdalena Rybarikova has just narrowed down the task for Halep and Kerber.
Halep must reach at least the semifinal to have a chance to seize No.1: if she accomplishes that, Kerber needs to make the final for the second year running to retain her ranking. (If neither Halep reaches the semifinal nor Kerber the final, the top spot will fall into Pliskova's hands.)
If the final next Saturday is contested between Halep and Kerber, they will be playing for the No.1 ranking as well as the Wimbledon title.
Not that it's preying on the 25-year-old - indeed, Halep is deliberately putting the possibility out of her mind. "I'm not thinking about that. I had some chances also in the final in French Open, but I didn't get it," she told the press after her second-round win over Beatriz Haddad Maia. "I just want to win every match I play here and we will see in the end what is going to happen. Of course, it's a nice goal for me to get the No.1, but it's not easy."
Having come through potentially tricky opening rounds against experienced, grass-loving qualifier Marina Erakovic and powerful young Brazilian debutante Haddad Maia in straight sets, Halep is well placed to take on the business end of The Championships. Her third-round opponent today, Peng Shuai, poses a stern test. A former World No.14, the Chinese No.2 was just two spots out of a seeding, and has reached this stage of a Slam on 13 previous occasions stretching back to 2006 (winning her third round seven times).
For her part, Halep has reached at least the quarterfinal stage at eight of her past 14 Slams, including twice at Wimbledon, where she was a semifinalist in 2014 and a quarterfinalist last year. Though known more for her exploits on clay, her neat groundstrokes and footwork are effective on grass as well - and, looking comfortable on it, Halep has been working hard to redress her recently missed opportunities.