Two-time former finalist and world #1 Simona Halep will begin her quest for a first Cincinnati crown when she takes on Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in Ohio. This has been the finest season of Halep’s career, with the obvious highlight of the French Open win just one of many fine accomplishments. But the competitiveness of the WTA is to be underestimated at one’s peril as she and Tomljanovic will both know. But who will come out on top?
This will be the first meeting between Halep and Tomljanovic. But in terms of experience, Halep, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a significant advantage. The Romanian has a record of 446-193 and has gone a phenomenal 42-7 this year. She has also won 18 titles, including the French Open and seven Premier titles. Tomljanovic has rather more modest numbers, having won 258 of her 439 matches and has never won a Tour-level title.
Path to the second round
Halep, as the top seed in Cincinnati, received a first-round bye and thus her match with Tomljanovic will be her first of the year at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. She likely appreciated the opportunity to rest that afforded after her efforts in Montreal. Despite having to play her second and third round matches on the same day and facing a difficult draw, Halep reminded the world why she sits atop the rankings by winning the title, defeating Sloane Stephens in a thriller in the final.
Tomljanovic did not make the trip to Montreal, but did make a run to the quarterfinals in San Jose two weeks ago losing to eventual champion Mihaela Buzarnescu in straight sets. She began her Cincinnati campaign in the qualifying against Japan’s Kurumi Nara and delivered an accomplished performance to win 6-3 6-4. Tomljanovic then bested Sorana Cirstea 6-3 6-2 to reach the main draw where she edged out Irina-Camelia Begu 4-6 6-3 6-3.
How do they match up?
Halep is perhaps the foremost example of the new generation of all-action baseliners, equipped to outlast opponents, withstand their best attacks and hit through them, that have risen to the top of the game. Thus whilst she does not excel at any particular aspect of the game, she is adept in almost every area and has no notable weaknesses save a second serve that can at times be vulnerable to more aggressive returners. That makes her exceptionally difficult to beat.
Particularly for a player such as Tomljanovic. The Australian is a consistent baseliner and spreads the court well with both her forehand and backhand. She can also play reasonably effectively in the forecourt although she is not amongst the best volleyers on the Tour. But she doesn’t have a huge amount of power behind her shots and thus will have difficulty hitting through Halep. Nor will she likely have much success trying to outlast her from the baseline, leaving her in a difficult situation.
After her exertions in Montreal, Halep seems a longshot for the title in Cincinnati. Indeed, Nadal, who won in Toronto, withdrew from Cincinnati and the man he beat in the final, Tsitsipas, lost first round. But, Halep showed the tenacity and fighting spirit she possesses in Montreal and that should serve her well against Tomljanovic. The match up is also very favourable for the world #1 with Tomljanovic offering little that can hurt her. Halep in straight sets.