In her first match since claiming her maiden Grand Slam crown at the French Open Simona Halep takes on Japan’s Kurumi Nara in the Wimbledon first round. Halep has never found as much success on grass as she has on clay and hard, but the Romanian is a formidable player on any surface and will surely be feeling confident after ending her Major drought. But Nara is in the draw to do more than just make up the numbers and will want to give a good account of herself on Centre. Who will win through?
Halep and Nara have met just once previously with that match coming in 2014 in Indian Wells in the second round. Halep, then seeded sixth, delivered an impressive performance to oust the Japanese in straight sets, 6-2 6-2 and went on to reach the semifinals (lost to Radwanska). 2014 ultimately proved an excellent year for both, with Nara reaching a career high ranking of world #32 and Halep making her first Slam final. However, whilst the Romanian has pressed on since, Nara has slid down the rankings to #100.
Last time out
Halep’s last match was surely one of, if not the outright greatest moment of her career as she downed reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the French Open final from a set down. It was a moment of real vindication for Halep who had suffered devastating losses in her three previous Grand Slam finals, including two at the French Open. Perhaps as a result of the emotional toll of the two weeks in Paris, however, Halep has not played a Wimbledon warm up tournament.
Nara, in contrast, has three grass court tournaments under her belt already. After exiting the French Open in the first round at the hands of Barbora Strycova, Nara played and lost in the first round in Nottingham, falling to Johanna Konta. She was then defeated in the first round of the Birmingham Classic qualifying by Camila Giorgi of Italy, losing 4-6 6-7. But she battled through the qualifying at Devonshire Park to reach the main draw, although she again lost first round, this time to Kaia Kanepi.
How do they match up?
Halep is unquestionably one of the best counter-punching baseliners in the game. However, the Romanian has sufficient quality to step into the court and dictate to opponents when the situation requires, with her forehand a particularly useful offensive weapon. Halep also uses her backhand to good effect, particularly when taking it down the line to open up the court, a shot that should pay dividends on a grass court.
The diminutive Nara, who stands just 5’1” tall, is not one of the most powerful players on the WTA Tour. But the Japanese is an excellent mover and can throw a fair amount of power behind her forehand which is her most dangerous weapon off the ground. However, she struggles to win many free points with her serve which is often vital in order to have success on a grass court. All the more so when playing a returner of Halep’s quality.
Winning a second Major so soon after claiming your first is exceedingly rare and for that reason, along with her historic lack of success on grass compared with clay and hard courts, Halep seems a long shot for the Wimbledon title. But the world #1 should have enough power to get past Nara, despite this being her first grass court match of the year. It may take her a while to fully click into gear, but when she does expect her to take control. Halep in straight sets.