(Photo credit: REUTERS/Paul Hanna)
World #1 Simona Halep is usually one of the most consistent and effective clay courters in the women’s game. But the Romanian has endured a difficult start on the red dirt in 2018 and is yet to win a title after seeing her Madrid title defence ended in the quarterfinals by Karolina Pliskova. Her bid to return to the Rome final for the second year running will face a stern examination at the hands of rising Frenchwoman and seventh seed Caroline Garcia. But who will come out on top?
This will be a fifth meeting between the pair with Halep currently leading the head-to-head three matches to one. Their first meeting came two years ago in Sydney in the round of 16 with Halep triumphing in a seesawing encounter 6-4 2-6 6-1. She scored another victory last year in the Toronto quarterfinals though in rather more convincing fashion 6-4 6-2. When they next met in Beijing last year, Halep had just reached the top of the rankings, but was beaten by Garcia 6-4 7-6. She had her revenge in Singapore, triumphing 6-4 6-2.
Path to the quarterfinals
Simona Halep reminded the tennis world what she is capable of at the peak of her powers in her first match in Rome. Drawn against Naomi Osaka after a first round bye, the Romanian crushed her opponent, who defeated her in the Indian Wells final in March. In Rome, however, Osaka managed just one game. Halep was then sent into the quarterfinals when Madison Keys was forced to retire with injury ahead of their third round clash.
Garcia, who also received a first round bye, began her tournament against Hungary’s Timea Babos, who celebrated her 25th birthday last week. Babos, ranked 4th in doubles, has always been more comfortable with a partner on court, and although she has had a respectable singles career, was outclassed by Garcia 6-3 6-4. Garcia then defeated Sloane Stephens. Garcia made a fast start before the American dug in in the second, but to no avail as the seventh seed advanced 6-1 7-6.
How do they match up?
Both Garcia and Halep play the majority of their tennis from the baseline. Halep, may not one of the most powerful players on the WTA Tour, but she is an excellent counterpuncher, and defends superbly from the corners. Her forehand is her most dangerous weapon, with the Romanian particularly adept at striking it on the run. Her backhand is also a useful weapon and, much like Djokovic and Nishikori on the men’s Tour, Halep defends terrifically with it.
Garcia is a more offensively minded player. The Frenchwoman’s best shot is also her forehand, and she will likely look to dominate with it throughout this match. She is also a better server than the Romanian, with both her first and second deliveries amongst the most accurate on Tour. Whilst her backhand is not, perhaps, a strength, it is a reliable enough shot. However, at times her movement can be exposed.
If Halep can summon anything like the performance she delivered against Naomi Osaka in the first round there will only be one winner here. Whilst Garcia is more comfortable on the clay than Osaka, the surface does not suit her in this match up, as Halep who is hard to hit through at the best of times becomes akin to a brick wall on the red dirt. The Frenchwoman will likely put up more resistance than Osaka, but Halep will advance in straight sets none-the-less.