(Reuters) – A resurgent Victoria Azarenka runs into her biggest test so far at this year’s Wimbledon when she meets fellow former world number one Simona Halep on Centre Court on Friday.
The pair have beaten each other twice in their careers and the last time they met was at the same venue in the round of 16 two years ago, when Romanian Halep triumphed in straight sets.
However, seventh seed Halep has been pushed in her first two matches this year — stretched to three sets by unseeded compatriot Mihaela Buzarnescu in the previous round — as the clay-court specialist struggles to adapt to the faster grass surface.
“It’s totally different, the game,” Halep told reporters after her 6-3 4-6 6-2 win over Buzarnescu. “I cannot slide here as I like on clay court. You don’t have that much time to think about the shots. You have to be very fast.”
Halep has plummeted from first to seventh in the rankings after a trophy-less 2019 but Azarenka is wary of the diminutive counter-puncher who prefers to stay behind the baseline and use her shot selection and court coverage to grind down opponents.
“She’s very good from the baseline, smart player, moves very well, brings a lot of balls back,” the Belarusian said.
“We had quite a few entertaining matches. She’s definitely a tough opponent… She knows how to play big matches.”
In other matches, 15-year-old American sensation Cori Gauff, who dispatched both Venus Williams and 2017 semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets, will also get a Centre Court match-up against Polona Hercog of Slovenia.
Top seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic continues his quest for a fifth title at the All England Club against Poland’s 22-year-old Hubert Hurkacz while women’s third seed Karolina Pliskova faces Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Clare Fallon)