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Determined Halep produces classy display to ease through to last four

 

On top: Simona Halep on way to victory over Shuai Zhang yesterday
On top: Simona Halep on way to victory over Shuai Zhang yesterday

By Jonathan Veal

Former World No.1 Simona Halep reached her second Wimbledon semi-final 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 faces Ukrainian eighth seed Elina Svitolina - who beat unseeded Czech star Karolina Muchova 7-5 6-4 in her quarter-final - tomorrow as she bids to reach the final for the first time having lost to Eugenie Bouchard in the last four in 2014.

"I was a little bit nervous before the match, a little bit stressed. I knew that she was going to come and hit the ball strongly," Halep said.

"With her the ball doesn't bounce that much, so it's really tough to return. But I kept fighting.

"I knew that I had to be 100 per cent for every ball, then I could break her rhythm a little bit. It happened in the second set."

Zhang 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 a key game that lasted over 10 minutes and turned the match.

The 27-year-old, last year's French Open champion, began to find her own rhythm, delivering the calculated, low-risk groundstrokes that wore down American Gauff to hold, then broke back via a double fault.

Zhang hung on 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.

Halep said: "It's a little bit dangerous when you play on grass because the feet are not really stable, but now I've started to feel it, to have it in my hands, to have it in my legs, and also in my mind, which is very important."

Svitolina became the first Ukrainian woman to reach the singles semi-finals of a Grand Slam with a hard-working 7-5 6-4 win over Muchova.

Svitolina has long been expected to join the challenge for the biggest prizes in tennis, but until yesterday all those attempts had fallen well short.

"It feels amazing. It is the first semi-final for me and I actually didn't expect it to happen here. It is exciting and I am looking forward to it already," the beaming 24-year-old said after setting up the last-four clash against Halep.

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