Simona Halep, the highest-ranked seed left in the tournament, took an early afternoon stroll through the fourth round on a sunny No.2 Court on Tuesday.
In a match which would usually be part of Magic Monday but was part of the rain-affected backlog, the No.3 seed dismissed Zarina Diyas 6-3, 6-0. The chief test she faced was set by herself, when she double-faulted at 4-0 in the second – less than a crucial moment – to create two break points. But the micro-crisis passed, and she wrapped up the job with an emphatic break to love in a total of 57 minutes. Last year’s runner-up Sabine Lisicki awaits in the last eight.
It should be noted that 20-year-old Diyas is herself a good prospect, having risen more than 150 places in the rankings to her current No.72 spot since she arrived at Wimbledon last year. Already this fortnight she nabbed the scalps of the No.15 seed Carla Suarez Navarro and the former Wimbledon and US finalist Vera Zvonareva. But the fourth round of a Grand Slam was new territory for the Kazakh No.2, and it was also the first time she had faced a top 5 opponent. Unfortunately for Diyas, both factors showed, and once the match was done she could not get off the court fast enough. But the last 16 at Wimbledon is no mean feat, especially as it was the first time two Kazakh women had progressed so far in the same Slam – the vastly more experienced Yaroslava Shvedova was beaten by Lisicki on No.3 Court just as Diyas was losing on No.2.
Halep, meanwhile, breezed through showing the kind of confidence and assurance which cannot be faked. This is the fourth successive Slam where she has notched up career-best progress, having of course run Maria Sharapova close in the Roland Garros final last month. It has all come from the springboard of 2013, where she improved 36 places in the rankings to finish at No.11 after snaffling six titles (only Serena Williams won more) on grass, clay and hard courts.
Against Diyas she turned on the heat from the very first game, snatching eight straight points to break for 2-1. She contented herself with that in the first set, but steamrollered the second.
Once again she is proving that her rocketing climb up the rankings is no fluke – she is rising so fast because she is the real deal, and she has certainly eclipsed her quarter-final opponent Lisicki in the last year. Twelve months ago Halep was ranked 32; the German was seeded 23 last year, and is 19 this time. Lisicki will need all her skills to overcome the 22-year-old, and would do well to heed the words of Svetlana Kuznetsova, who succumbed to Halep in the Roland Garros quarter-finals.
“She plays very smart tennis,” observed the two-time Slam champion. “She doesn’t overpower you. She takes off the speed very well. Smart.”
In Paris, as here, Halep seems to have been entirely unburdened by becoming the highest seed left in the tournament from an early stage – more notable as she still so new to the heady air breathed by the most elite. It was only Sharapova’s superior big stage experience which told at Roland Garros; before the final no other competitor could take a set from her. Here she has lost just one, to Lisicki’s two to date. Their quarter-final will be the latest intriguing measure of Halep’s progress.
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