Simona Halep will face surely her toughest test yet in her quest to win in Paris when she takes on former world #1 and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber. Halep, who has three-times lost in the final of a Major including twice in Paris, will surely be desperate to end her Slam hoodoo this year. But Kerber has looked to be getting back to the form that saw her finish 2016 as the world’s best. Who will win this one?
As befitting two of the game’s star names, Halep and Kerber have had a long, storied rivalry which Halep leads narrowly five matches to four. Their first match was contested nine years ago in the first round in St Raphael, France, with Halep winning a tightly fought three-setter, 5-7 6-2 7-5. Five years later, she defeated Kerber again, this time in the final in Doha with the Romanian winning 6-3 6-2. She scored a third straight win in 2015 at the Rogers Cup 6-3 5-7 6-4.
Kerber picked up her first win against Halep in Fed Cup action in 2016, winning 6-2 6-2. She backed that up with a straight sets quarterfinal win at Wimbledon later that year. Halep picked up a fourth win, however, in Montreal a month later, winning 6-0 3-6 6-2 in the semifinals. Kerber had her revenge in the Cincinnati semifinals, winning 6-3 6-4 before beating Halep again in Singapore. Their most recent matchup came earlier this year in a thrilling Australian Open semifinal that Halep won 6-3 4-6 9-7.
Path to the quarterfinals
Halep’s opener in Paris got off to a bad start for the Romanian as she dropped the first set to Alison Riske of the United States. But the world #1 was able to right the ship quickly, winning 2-6 6-1 6-1. She backed that up with a comfortable 6-3 6-1 win over another American, Taylor Townsend. That was followed by a 7-5 6-0 victory over Germany’s Andrea Petkovic and a dominant 6-2 6-1 win over Elise Mertens, a repeat of her victory against the Belgian in Madrid.
Kerber began her French Open campaign with a 6-2 6-3 win over her compatriot Mona Barthel, before winning by the same score in the second round against Ana Bogdan of Romania, in what were her first Roland Garros victories since 2015. Kerber had to work hard to get by Madrid finalist Kiki Bertens in the third round, winning 7-6 7-6. That set up a fourth round clash with the last Frenchwoman standing, Caroline Garcia. Kerber crushed Garcia 6-2 6-3 in one of her best ever clay court performances.
How do they match up?
Both Kerber and Halep prefer to play counter-punching tennis. But, they are not unable to play on the front foot. Both rely on their forehands as their main weapons and play the running forehand particularly well. This match is almost certain to feature a number of long rallies, and fitness could eventually become a factor, although neither woman has spent a huge amount of time on court coming into this match, so they should be in good shape physically.
As is clear from their previous matches, there is rarely much to separate Halep and Kerber, and both have impressed so far in Paris. But, what may ultimately count decisively in Halep’s favour is her greater comfort on a clay court, a surface Kerber has always enjoyed least. Indeed, the German has never been beyond the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, the only Slam that is true of. Halep won’t have it easy, but she will have just enough to come through in three sets.