Simona Halep, Aryna Sabalenka steamroll through Stuttgart second round

Simona Halep, Aryna Sabalenka steamroll through Stuttgart second round

Former world No. 1 Simona Halep made a winning return from injury at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix while Aryna Sabalenka continued to impress in her Stuttgart debut.

Simona Halep surged through her opening round encounter at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, easing past 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1, 6-3.

"This match gives me confidence that my level is high," Halep said in her post-match press conference. "If I keep doing the same thing, I'll be good."

Champion in Madrid, Rome, and Roland Garros, Halep is eager to claim the one remaining major European clay court event that still eludes her, and moved one step close to achieving that goal after 56 minutes on Center Court.

"I have many titles won on this surface and I like the clay. I like to slide more, play longer points. Everything about clay, I like!"

Vondrousova underwent left wrist surgery following her breakout run in Paris, but has not only proven formidable on clay since returning to action—reaching the Internazionali BNL d’Italia semifinals last fall—but also came into Thursday’s clash undefeated in two previous meetings with Halep, including one on clay.

"I was a little bit nervous before the match because she'd beaten me every time," Halep said. "I was a little bit scared of her drop shots, so he told me I'd have to be more aggressive today, which I did, and did it well. After the match, he told me I'd played well and he's rarely seen me so aggressive. I played exactly how we'd talked about playing before the match."

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Halep was playing her first match since pulling out of the Miami Open due to a right shoulder injury, and made up for lost match practice in a major way, racing through the opening set after an initial exchange of service holds.

"I had no pain today, and I'm really happy about that. I feel I've recovered very well with two weeks of a break. I still think I have to play some more matches to see if my shoulder is ok.

"I've missed playing matches. I had a few weeks without them and it was kind of tough when I started the match, but my mind was strong enough to get focused on what I had to play."

The second set proved more straightforward as Vondrousova angled for opportunities, but ultimately struggled to make in-roads on Halep’s serve.

"My serve was not that strong today, but it was very well-placed, so I think it helped me a lot in making the match easier."

Not allowing the Czech a single break point, Halep finished the match with the loss of just eight points on serve, securing victory when Vondrousova erred long on a forehand slice.

In all, Halep struck a scintillating 22 winners to just 13 unforced errors and proved about as clutch on return as she did on serve, converting four of six break point opportunities.

Awaiting the former world No. 1 in the quarterfinals will be the winner of a second-round match between No. 8 seed Belinda Bencic and Ekaterina Alexandrova.

"I had a long time before this tournament to recover my body, and I did everything I could just to get ready for the matches with my shoulder, back, and everything else," Halep said. "Right now, I feel good, and hopefully the pain stays away so I can play my matches."
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Around the grounds...

Earlier in the day, No. 5 seed Aryna Sabalenka put down another dominant performance in her Stuttgart debut, dispatching hometown favorite Anna-Lena Friedsam, 6-4, 6-2 to book an exciting quarterfinal against 2019 runner-up Anett Kontaveit.

"I wouldn’t say these two matches I’m playing really well," Sabalenka said after the match. "I’m kind of getting these wins through the work. It's been tricky matches, the first and the second one, and I’m just trying to do my best on each match and I’m just happy to get these wins."

Karolina Pliskova kicked off the Center Court schedule with a three-set thriller against rival Jelena Ostapenko. The 2018 champion rallied from a set down to outlast the former French Open champion, 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-3. Pliskova will next play top seed Ashleigh Barty, who defeated 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion Laura Siegemund in straight sets on Wednesday.