By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Former world number one Simona Halep reached her second Wimbledon semi-final on Tuesday after overcoming an early onslaught to deliver another textbook example of matchplay tennis and dispatch China’s unseeded Zhang Shuai 7-6(4) 6-1.
Just as she did in quelling the lively challenge of 15-year-old Coco Gauff on Monday, Halep initially struggled and looked in real danger when 4-1 down and facing more break points in the opening set. However, the Romanian dug in to see off the threat then played her usual percentage tennis as Zhang lost her way.
Seventh-seed Halep will now face either number eight seed Elina Svitolina or unseeded Karolina Muchova as she bids to reach the final for the first time having lost to Eugenie Bouchard in the last four in 2014.
“I fought hard in the first set, even if I knew I was 4-1 and she was hitting hard, I knew she would hit with a lot of power. I knew I would have to play aggressively and I did it great,” she said.
“I have energy, I feel fresh and confident and I am perhaps playing my best tennis on grass.”
Zhang is ranked 50th and has reached the quarter-finals in only one Grand Slam event – the 2016 Australian Open.
However, she started superbly, serving and returning with depth, power and confidence to break in the second game and race to a 4-1 lead. That looked set to be 5-1 but Halep battled and chased to save four break points in the game and turn the match.
The 27-year-old Romanian, last year’s French Open champion, began to find her own rhythm, delivering the calculated low-risk groundstrokes that wore down American Gauff on Monday to hold, then broke back via a double fault.
Zhang’s double-handed backhand, so deadly in the opening games, began to pepper the tramlines as the inconsistency indicated by her poor Grand Slam record became evident.
She clung on enough to get to a tiebreak but was well beaten in it and an early break in the second set put Halep 3-1 up.
Zhang’s head then dropped and the errors flowed as Halep rattled through the remaining games at a canter.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)