Simona Halep may have given what felt like a vintage performance on Saturday to knock out home favourite and World No 2 Paula Badosa in the Madrid Open second round, but the Romanian insists this is Simona 2.0.
The World No 1 and two-time Madrid champion won nine of the last 10 games to claim just her third top-10 victory since 2019 and win 6-3, 6-1.
Halep, whose 2021 campaign was hampered by injuries, is down to 21 in the world but her ruthless game against Badosa was reminiscent of the level she played during the 64 weeks she spent at the summit of the rankings.
“New Simona, I would say,” assured Halep, who next faces American teenager Coco Gauff or Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva for a place in the quarter-finals.
“I felt great on court. I’m happy to be on court, and this is the most important thing at this age. I think I improved a lot in these past four weeks, and I’m still looking to improve more.
“I will take this match as a boost and confidence, because I played with one of the best players in the world.
“I played a great match without actually many matches before this tournament, so it gives me a good boost. We will see for the next one.”
The 30-year-old Halep hired Serena Williams’ former coach Patrick Mouratoglou earlier this month and the partnership seems to have got off to a promising start.
“It’s a pleasure and an honour to have Patrick in my box as a coach. We are working very hard on some things and as I see I played well every match. I’m just focused on getting better and getting stronger,” added the two-time Grand Slam champion.
Halep opened proceedings with a break of serve and skipped to a 2-0 lead.
Fired up by the home crowd, Badosa, who is Catalan but lives in Madrid, pegged back the Romanian, taking the next three games. Still Halep pounced once again to scoop the first set.
Badosa seeks treatment
After dropping seven consecutive games, trailing Halep 0-3 in the second, Badosa called the trainer to receive treatment on her right shoulder.
Badosa saved two match points to hold for 1-5 but Halep closed out the win shortly after, finishing with an impressive ratio of 21 winners to 14 unforced errors.
An emotional Badosa refused to blame her shoulder for the defeat and said Halep played a “perfect” match.
“It’s not the best moment right now,” said Badosa, holding back tears.
“Quite bad. I don’t know. It’s tough to lose at home.
“It’s been a tough week, as well. Very stressful, a lot of things. Tough draw, as well. But it goes how it goes, and I have to accept it.
“I think I need days off, because there are some tournaments that they seem like five, and this is the case right now.”
Earlier in the day, former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka rallied back from a one-set deficit to overcome last year’s Roland Garros semi-finalist Tamara Zidansek 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 in two hours and 20 minutes and faces American Amanda Anisimova next.
The 20-year-old Anisimova, a former Roland Garros semi-finalist, came through a tough three-setter against Croatian veteran Petra Martic 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.