PARIS, FRANCE – Simona Halep cruised through what could have been her toughest test, but admitted she still gets very nervous before matches. She will face Angelique Kerber in the quarter-final.
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Simona Halep def. Elise Mertens  6-2 6-1
World No. 1 Simona Halep has looked in impressive form albeit after the blip of dropping the first set of tennis she played at this year’s Roland Garros. For many players the first week of a Slam is all about survival. Sure, it’s match on match, but to get to the end of the first week means, in this case, surviving variable weather and updates.
Halep is a player that has had her demons on the court. Just last year, her penchant for a complete implosion when things were not going her way. Her spectacular meltdown against Johanna Konta in last year’s Miami quarter-final saw coach Darren Cahill force a break.
Add to that the drama of the Fed Cup tie (Konta once more) in Romania – it was a strangely subdued Halep in Stuttgart at the start of the European clay court season, but the win in Madrid saw Cahill and Halep reunited.
Halep will always be one of those players who wears her heart on her sleeve, and honestly it is one of the more endearing qualities of the scrappy, determined Romanian. On the topic of the week one survival course she said:
“I take every match day the same; doesn’t matter if it’s the first week or the second week. But what is true is that in the second week you get used to the tournament and to the nerves, as well.
“In my opinion, I relaxed a little bit after the first week. So every player is different, but both weeks are special.”
Halep and the battle of nerves
One of the changes we have seen in the Romanian is her opening up a lot more about her feelings on and off the court. She has lived out some crushing losses in the gaze of Grand Slam media.
She continued: “I think I am very nervous before every match, and this is because I am like this. So I’m not going to fight with myself about that.
“But I try to improve this thing, and I try to enjoy my nerves, because they are special when you play Grand Slams.”
Rematch of Australian Open semi-final with Angelique Kerber
Understandably the French were hoping to see Caroline Garcia in the quarter-final but it was not to be for the French No. 1. Instead she will get a chance to test her mettle with Angelique Kerber – the pair gave us one of the best matches at the start of the year.
Indeed Kerber’s form at the start of the year made her a favourite to win a second Australian Open title. Halep had rolled her ankle in her opening game and proceeded to hobble her way pluckily but still painfully through her matches to a semi-final.
One thing these ladies can do is run and run. And run. As Andrea Petkovic said, having struggled with an injury pf her own against Halep in the last round:
“She starts opening you up and you run and run and run, and you hope and you pray to God for your life, but in the end you still lose the point.”
Yet both players have recognised that a scamperer’s game is not enough in a more powerful game, trying to play a lot more aggressively in recent years. Then again, their fall back is to run and run. And run.
“It’s every time it’s a tough match, and every time I expect the same. I’m ready mentally. I’m ready physically. I’m ready to face this challenge, and I’m ready to enjoy it.
“I think that I have learned in the past that I have to enjoy more, and to be thankful that I am in that position and that I have the possibility to give everything I have, so I will do that.”
Kerber was ruthless in her dispatch of the last Frech player standing in the singles, Garcia. The French No. 1 had started every press conference insisting she was only going to answer questions about the match she had just played and the up-coming match as a way of keeping the focus off her. She asked to be put on Suzanne Lenglen the first two matches – a show court without as much of the wide space on Chatrier, and was scheduled on Lenglen again.
It was not going to be third time the charm though this time and Garcia admitted she had panicked a little at not being able to execute her game.
Kerber can, of course, play on clay – she has won a brace of Porches on the slick indoor clay of Stuttgart after all. But this slow claggy outdoor stuff has not been as easy for the German to tame.
She said: “I was trying to really, yeah, playing better on clay also the last years. And now it works much better. I’m also trying, you know, I think that clay can help me also being better on the hard court, on grass. I’m trying always to improving my game, improving, yeah, me as a player. It’s working so far.”
So what should we expect from two of the fittest athletes on the tour so far?
“Long match then, I think (smiling). We both play really well from the defence, but we both try to improving to being more aggressive.
“I think at the end, I will just try to focusing more on my game. I mean, I know what to expect, but at the end I think that I have to take the match in my hand, trying to be more aggressive, and just taking my chances when I get it.
“But I think at the end, I think it will be a long match, but, yeah, I’m looking forward. I mean, that’s the matches for what we are practicing for and, yeah, I’m looking forward.”
Halep and Kerber will play their quarter-final on Wednesday.
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