In her first match of the North American summer swing, world #1 Simona Halep takes on Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a place in the third round in Montreal. Halep finally ended her long wait for Grand Slam glory earlier this summer in Paris, but has struggled to find her best tennis since. Pavlyuchenkova, meanwhile, has long been one of the Tour’s most consistent performers and will be looking to claim the 28th top ten win of her career. But who will come out on top?
Halep and Pavlyuchenkova have met seven times so far and Halep has won all seven. Their first match came six years ago in Dubai, where Halep ran out a 6-4 6-2 victor, before adding victories in Tokyo, Moscow and Sofia in 2013, losing just one set in the process. She then scored a 7-6 6-2 win in Cincinnati and a 6-2 6-1 win in Wuhan in 2015. In their most recent meeting, which came last year in Rome, Halep overcame a mid-match loss of focus to win 6-1 4-6 6-0.
Path to the second round
Halep played a magnificent tournament in Paris to lift the French Open title, defeating Sloane Stephens from a set down in the final. She then rested until Wimbledon where she scored fine victories over Kurumi Nara and Zheng Saisai to reach the third round. There she came unstuck against Hsieh Su-wei, losing 6-3 4-6 5-7 despite holding a 5-2 lead in the decider. It was Hsieh’s second giant killing of the year after also defeating Garbine Muguruza in Melbourne.
Pavlyuchenkova also fell victim to Hsieh at the All England Club, losing to the unorthodox Taiwanese in three sets in the first round. She elected not to play any of the post-Wimbledon clay court tournaments or the hard court warm-ups and thus her match against Christina McHale of the United States was her first since losing to Hsieh at Wimbledon. But she showed no signs of rust, dismantling McHale to record a comfortable 6-3 6-2 victory.
How do they match up?
Halep has risen to the top of the world rankings and the status of Grand Slam champion by combining excellent defensive and counter-punching skills with a willingness and ability to step forward and dictate. Her forehand is her best shot, both offensively and defensively, but her backhand is a useful weapon in her armoury. If she has a weakness it is her serve, particularly her second delivery which is vulnerable against the game’s more aggressive returners.
Pavlyuchenkova would usually be accounted amongst their number, with the Russian always eager to take advantage of a poor second serve with an aggressive return. However, she has evidently not been able to exploit Halep’s weakness in that area having lost all their previous matches. That may be the result of her inability to hit through Halep with any regularity, whilst also not possessing the defensive quality to withstand Halep’s offence.
Pavlyuchenkova looked very strong in defeating McHale in the first round. But, Halep is the world #1 for a reason and marks a serious step up in the quality of opponent. She also clearly has a game that matches up very well to Pavlyuchenkova’s having dominated their rivalry, often with real ease. She has also generally played well in Canada, having won the tournament in 2016, either side of a final and last four appearance. Expect the Romanian to advance in straight sets.