By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) – Simona Halep was supposedly having a ‘chill’ year, but for a little over an hour on Wimbledon’s Centre Court the ice-cool Romanian was on fire as she swatted aside Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-1 on Friday to reach the fourth round.
Halep’s form has understandably dipped since she won the French Open last year to lift the weighty millstone of several Grand Slam final failures and she said her intention in 2019 was to mentally ease off the accelerator.
Yet any suggestion that her hunger had diminished was emphatically dispelled as she absorbed everything Azarenka could muster and then dismantled her fellow former world number one to progress for the loss of four games.
That statistic was all the more remarkable considering Azarenka, ranked 40th in the world, had broken in the fourth game of the first set to take a 3-1 lead, a commanding advantage that was comprehensively erased as the seventh-ranked Halep won six straight games.
The Belarusian’s frustrations boiled over as she slammed her racket into the turf, receiving a code violation from the umpire, before she fell to her knees with head in hands after smacking a simple put-away into the net.
Azarenka, who had dispatched her second-round opponent by winning 12 consecutive games, made only one further mark on the scoreboard against Halep, to level at 1-1 in the second set, before the Romanian put her foot to the floor to win five games on the bounce.
She brought up three match points with a precise midcourt dropshot and, after spurning the first, put Azarenka out of her on-court misery, when the Belarusian netted a return.
Next up for Halep is a potentially mouth-watering clash with Cori Gauff, providing the 15-year-old American can get past Polona Hercog.
Not that Halep will be paying much attention.
“My coach is going to watch this match,” she said. “I will recover my body and just chill. I have a day off. I don’t look at the draw. I just take it match by match.”
(Reporting by Toby Davis, editing by Ed Osmond)