World #1 and recent French Open champion Simona Halep will look to continue her impressive form and her quest for the Channel Slam when she takes on China’s Zheng Saisai. Halep has not found Wimbledon the happiest of hunting grounds although she did reach the last four in 2014 (lost to Bouchard). Zheng Saisai has four times reached the round of 64 at the Championships, but is yet to progress further. Will this be her year or will Halep prove too strong?
Halep and Zheng have met just once previously with that match coming in 2015 at the Shenzhen Open in Zheng’s native China. Zheng had put together an impressive run to reach the last four, which included a quarterfinal victory over the fourth seed Zarina Diyas. But in the semifinals the top seed Halep proved far too strong for the Chinese, dropping just five games in a comfortable 6-2 6-3 win with the Romanian going on to defeat Timea Bacsinszky in the final.
Path to the second round
Halep, perhaps understandably after what was surely a wearying fortnight in Paris both emotionally and physically, elected not to play a warm up tournament ahead of this year’s Championships. Her first match at the All England Club pitted her against the diminutive Kurumi Nara of Japan, who was once ranked as high as world #32. But she now finds herself on the verge of falling out of the top 100 and was handily beaten by Halep who progressed a 6-2 6-4 winner.
Zheng, who qualified into the Nottingham Open after losing first round in Paris to Ekaterina Makarova, began her Wimbledon campaign against her compatriot Wang Qiang, ranked 56 places above her in the WTA rankings. But it was Zheng who made the better start, breaking through Wang’s defences to take the first set 6-3. Wang fought back to level the match, winning the second set 6-4, but Zheng dominated the decider to win 6-3 4-6 6-1.
How do they match up?
Though Halep’s defensive qualities are her greatest asset and rightly the area of her game that receives the most praise, the Romanian is well-capable of stepping into the court and taking the match to her opponent. Her biggest offensive weapon is her forehand, with which the world’s best spreads the court magnificently. Her backhand is also a useful weapon, and with the courts playing as quickly as they are, there has been real joy to be found by taking it down the line, a shot Halep uses well.
Zheng is also an excellent mover. She had success early in her career as a doubles player, winning three titles and reaching the French Open quarterfinals on three occasions and the Australian Open semifinals twice, and is comfortable in the forecourt. From the baseline she will likely look to do most of the damage with her backhand which she is more comfortable flattening out and hitting through than her forehand, which she tends to hit with more topspin and less pace.
This match may not be a walkover for Halep, but the Romanian is in fine form and impressed in brushing aside Nara’s challenge. Zheng, whose style of play is not entirely dissimilar from the Japanese’s, will make a lot of balls but doesn’t really have the weapons to knock Halep out of her stride. Her serve may also prove vulnerable to a returner of Halep’s quality. Expect the world #1 to reach the third round a straight sets winner.