Simona stumbles, but brushes off Brady

  • Reem Abulleil

Simona Halep put together a gritty performance to overcome a hard-hitting Jennifer Brady and make the second round of Australian Open 2020 on Tuesday.

The former world No.1 twice fought back from a break down in the first set, and recovered from a tumble she took an hour into the contest en route to a 7-6(5) 6-1 victory. She will meet British qualifier Harriet Dart in round two.  

Playing just her third singles match of the year, Halep dug deep to shake off an in-form Brady, to ensure her first Grand Slam match with her Aussie coach Darren Cahill back in her corner was a victorious occasion.

“Definitely was a tough match. I knew actually because we played against each other a few months ago, I was prepared to play as much as possible. To be in the second round is a very nice feeling to play here in Australia,” said the fourth seed, who was runner-up in Melbourne in 2018.

“I think the second one I just found the rhythm a bit better, I tried to move her more because in the first set I just stayed in one corner. I was a bit stronger and the serve was better in the second set.”

MORE: All the results from Day 2 in Melbourne

Speaking of the fall she took at 5-5 in the first set, Halep joked that it was reminiscent of her ankle roll in the first round of her 2018 campaign, in which she made the final before losing to Caroline Wozniacki.

“As I remember well in 2018 was the same, probably I can repeat that,” said Halep with a laugh.

"I don't know why in the first round always I fall down. Maybe it's a good sign.

“It’s too far to think about that. My wrist is pretty painful. I need to chill and recover for the second round.”

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Halep hit the deck, but bounced back strongly in the second set

Brady entered the Australian Open buoyed by a career-high ranking of No.49 and with a huge scalp under her belt, having defeated world No.1 Ashleigh Barty en route to the Brisbane quarterfinals – as a qualifier – in the first week of the new season.

It was the first top-five win of Brady’s career, and it came on the heels of a victory over Maria Sharapova in the previous round.

‘I tried to move her more because in the first set I just stayed in one corner. I was a bit stronger and the serve was better in the second set’
Simona Halep

Halep, who is the only woman to be a top-four seed at Melbourne Park for the past five years, won her sole previous meeting with Brady – a tight third-set tiebreak victory in Toronto last year, but said the powerful American was a tricky initial opponent. 

"I remember when I played once against [Shelby] Rogers and she beat me here, Zhang [Shuai], so big hitters, [Sloane] Stephens. Not easy to play with them at the first moment of the tournament because you are not ready, totally ready, you don't have the rhythm.

"But I had experience, and I knew that if I hang in there, I have a better chance to win."

Brady sent out an early warning sign by breaking Halep in the first game of the contest, and was sending down punishing groundstrokes from the get-go.

The powerful 24-year-old maintained her advantage until Halep upped the pressure and broke back to level for 4-all.

The pair had some brutal exchanges, with Brady forcing Halep to bring out her defensive best, sending the Romanian all over the court on each point.

Halep took a tumble during one of those lengthy rallies and was broken in game 11. A frustrated Halep slammed her racquet against her bench as she sat down and called for the trainer to check on her right wrist, which she fell on in the previous game.

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Halep was relieved a tricky match turned her way late

Back on court after her medical timeout, Halep saved three set points, one with an outrageous dropshot-passing shot combo, before getting a chance to break Brady and force a tiebreak.

Halep got her hands on two set points at 6-4 in the breaker but Brady was not going down easily, and produced a monster serve to escape the first one. She hit a long ball on the next one though as Halep somehow snuck away with the opening set in 69 minutes.

The No.4 seed broke serve to start the second set and looked like she finally cracked the Brady code, finding her angles and soon going up a double break 5-1. The 28-year-old sealed the deal shortly after, on her third match point.