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Focused Halep is savouring her role as favourite

 

By Paul Newman

Simona Halep says it feels good when people tell her that she is the favourite to win the French Open, but the World No.1 is taking nothing for granted.

"It's very far to think about the title," Halep said after crushing Belgium's Elise Mertens 6-2 6-1 yesterday to secure her place in the quarter-finals.

Twice a runner-up at Roland Garros, Halep took the last nine games on Court Philippe Chatrier against an opponent who had won two titles on clay in the build-up and had won 16 of her 17 matches in the current clay-court season. Her only previous defeat on clay this year had been against Halep in Madrid last month.

Mertens, aged 22, was making only her second appearance in the main draw, having reached the third round last year.

This was the first Grand Slam where the Belgian had been seeded following her rapid rise up the world rankings, thanks in large part to her appearance in the Australian Open semi-finals in January.

Halep started slowly but took charge when she broke in the third game. The 26-year-old Romanian played aggressively, going for her shots and winning points in double-quick time.

"I wanted to be more aggressive because tennis is like that now," Halep said. "I don't have that much power, but if I play fast I feel like I improve a little bit more.

"It was a great match, and the way I played gives me confidence that I did everything well until now. It's never easy to play against her. I played her in Madrid and I felt she was very aggressive. She wants to play fast, so I did the same thing. I was a little stronger in the important moments."

Halep, who lost to Maria Sharapova and to Jelena Ostapenko in the 2014 and 2017 finals respectively, is doing her best not to feel any pressure as she chases her first Grand Slam title.

"I'm thinking about winning a Grand Slam, but I don't know if it's going to happen this year or in this life," she said with a smile. "I'm working for that. Every day I'm trying just to get better. I hope I will become mature enough to win a Grand Slam in the future, but for the moment I just want to enjoy this win and this tournament."

However, Halep admitted that she always suffers with nerves before her matches.

"That's just the way I am," she said. "I'm not going to fight with myself about that. But I'm trying to improve and to enjoy my nerves, because they are special when you play Grand Slams."

Caroline Wozniacki, who beat Halep in the Romanian's only other appearance in a Grand Slam final at this year's Australian Open, suffered her customary Roland Garros disappointment when she was beaten 7-6 6-3 by Russia's Daria Kasatkina.

In 11 appearances in the main draw, Wozniacki has never gone beyond the quarter-finals.

The match had been called off the previous night at 3-3 in the second set because of bad light and was over in a matter of minutes after the resumption.

"I think clay is her surface," Wozniacki said. "I think any slow surface suits her because she tries to slow the pace down. She doesn't give you two of the same balls, so she changes the pace.

"She tries to slow it down, and then once she has the opportunity she's going to go in and hit one really hard and then slow it down again. I think the slower the surface is, the better for her."

Kasatkina, who will now take on Sloane Stephens in the quarters, is through to the last eight for the first time. The 21-year-old Russian, who was knocked out in the third round on both her previous appearances, has made great progress this year.

Having started 2018 at No.24 in the world rankings, she is already up to No.14 and could make further progress next week.

Belfast Telegraph

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