Do you remember the look that Simona Halep had over the last few rounds of Wimbledon in 2019? It was a look of intense focus, controlled fury and upbeat relentlessness. Last year at the All England Cub, it kicked in during the second set of her quarterfinal win over Zhang Shuai, and it didn’t disappear until she had beaten Serena Williams in the final, in less than hour, for her second Grand Slam title.
Halep played with a similarly controlled fury during her 53-minute, 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal win today against Anett Kontaveit at the Australian Open. She started her first service game with an ace, and essentially never looked back. She moved the taller Kontaveit side to side. She was steadier in the long rallies. She saved the only break point she faced with a brilliant forehand winner from outside the doubles alley. She hit her targets even when she was on the run. Typically, Halep is the player who is scrambling and defending, and she did her share of that; but she also hit the ball hard enough to put the taller Kontaveit on her heels and force her to swing late.
“I felt great today on the court,” Halep said with a broad smile. “I felt strong in my legs.”
Halep’s stats bore her words out. She finished with five aces (she had four in her first four matches combined). She made 78 percent of her first serves and won 78 percent of her first-serve points. She hit her fastest serve of the tournament, at 108 m.p.h.
Kontaveit had survived a long three-setter against Iga Swiatek two days ago, and she may have been tired. If so, the fact Halep who was able to win several important deuce and ad points early, and build a quick lead, didn’t do anything to reinvigorate her.
Halep, by contrast, only became more precise as the match progressed. Against Serena at Wimbledon, she was not only running down every ball, she was creating difficult shots for Serena with her responses. During the second set against Kontaveit, Halep reminded me of her Centree Court performance when, after tracking down a short ball, she flipped it quickly over the net and landed it perfectly in the corner, an inch from the baseline.
“I’ve been focused every point,” she said.
After losing the 2018 final to Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 in the third set, Halep wants this title more than any other. As she said, though, she knows it’s “still far.” That’s true. She’ll play one of two big hitters, Garbiñe Muguruza or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, in the semis, and she may face Ash Barty in front of her home crowd in the final. But if last year’s Wimbledon tells us anything, once Halep gets that look on her face and that relentlessness in her game, it can be tough for anyone, on any court, to stop her.