For the second week running, world #1 Simona Halep will take on Australia’s Ashleigh Barty. Halep is looking to continue her fine form which has seen her go an extremely creditable 42-7 for the year and tighten her grip atop the world rankings, as well as lift the French Open. But the always dangerous Barty, earlier this season the champion in Nottingham where she defeated Johanna Konta in the final, will be eager to knock the Romanian off her perch. Who will come out on top?
That meeting last week in Montreal, which came in the semifinals, was their first. Halep got off to a fast start, breaking Barty in the first game with some excellent play, and she continued to impress in the early going, going up a double break. But Barty dug in and fought back, reclaiming one of the breaks. But it came too late to save the set for the Australian and when she was broken again early in the second, the writing was on the wall. Halep advanced a 6-4 6-1 winner.
Path to the third round
Halep, as the top seed in Cincinnati, enjoyed a first-round bye and surely appreciated the rest after her exertions north of the border. She began her campaign in Ohio against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic and it was Tomljanovic who made the better start, winning the first set 6-4. But she could not maintain her level and Halep began to find the holes in her game and was leading 4-3 in the decider when rain interrupted proceedings. But she returned to complete the win 4-6 6-3 6-3 the next day.
Barty, the 16th seed, began her campaign against the Czech Republic’s 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova. Vondrousova gave a good account of herself, but was ultimately unable to really challenge Barty, who advanced a 6-3 7-5 winner. That set up a clash with the Estonian veteran Kaia Kanepi, six times a Grand Slam quarterfinalist, but no match for Barty on the day in Cincinnati as the Australian won 7-5 6-3.
How do they match up?
As Martina Navratilova recently commented, Halep is playing like a world #1. The Romanian looks confident and in control when she is at the baseline and has been striking the ball with real conviction. Her backhand down the line has been excellent in recent matches and she has spread the court well with her forehand as ever. Her serve was, however, a little shaky against Tomljanovic, with the Romanian giving up nine double faults and serving just two aces.
The key for Barty in this match will be keeping Halep out of rhythm, a task for which she is well-equipped. Few are better at changing the pace of their strokes than the Australian and her backhand slice is one of the best in the game. She also excels in the forecourt, and has four times been a Grand Slam finalist in doubles. But she was rarely able to get into the net against Halep and would do well to try and rush forward more in Cincinnati.
The conditions in Canada and Cincinnati are very similar. Indeed, even the rain appears to have followed the Tours south. Thus after winning convincingly in Montreal, there seems to be little reason to suspect that Halep won’t do so again in Cincinnati. Barty was not able to do enough last week to make Halep uncomfortable and in a baseline battle she had no chance against the world’s best. Halep in straight sets.