Halep’s ultra-focused win over Sharapova felt like a long time coming

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Simona Halep made 70 percent of her first serves in the first set. (AP)

“Rampant” is how the U.K.’s Daily Express described Simona Halep after her 6-2, 6-2 win over Maria Sharapova in Beijing on Wednesday. There’s really no better word for her runaway performance. The result was the Romanian’s first win over the Russian in eight tries, and in the most convincing fashion imaginable.

Halep was dialed in from the first point, and her focus never wavered; if there were any nerves about doing something she had never done before, she didn’t show them. She counterpunched, as she always must against the taller and more powerful Sharapova. But this time Halep counterpunched with purpose and power of her own. She redirected Sharapova’s pace to both corners and forced her opponent to hit on the run. More important, she did it without making mistakes of her own. At the end of the first set, Sharapova had 20 errors and Halep had one. Even worse for Sharapova, she had hit just three more winners—seven to four—than her opponent. Halep wasn’t letting her do anything she wanted to do.

That went for the serve as well. A big part of what Sharapova always wants to do against Halep is take advantage of her floating second serve. Sharapova did it so well in their match at the US Open last month that Halep has dedicated herself to improving that shot. The work paid off today, as Halep made 70 percent of her first serves in the first set, denying Sharapova a chance to tee off on her second ball. Halep also read Sharapova’s first serve well and was in virtually all of the Russian’s service games.

“It was a great match,” Halep said. “I think I played my best tennis against her.”

“I served pretty well, and the work that I did after the US Open, I could see it on court today.”

Sharapova couldn’t argue with that assessment.

“I think she played an incredible match,” she said of Halep, “probably the best she’s played against me in all our previous meetings.”

Looking on was Halep’s new co-coach, Andrei Pavel, a former Romanian player. Do we have another super-coach on our hands? Halep is still strongly connected to her home country, and if he can help her feel a little more at home on the road, all the better. But in finally running rampant over Sharapova, Halep seemed to prove something to herself. New coach or no new coach, this felt like a performance that came from deep within.

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