Simona Halep seems to expect a battle every time she walks on court, maybe even embraces it, if not necessarily the angst that goes along with it. And windstorm or not on Wednesday afternoon, the No. 1-ranked player in the world was not about to get blown off the court by Petra Martic in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.
When it counted, the gritty Romanian got angry and simply determined to play better, outlasting the 51st-ranked Croatian 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3 in two hours, 23 minutes to advance to the semifinals of a tournament she won in 2015.
A wind-burned Halep seemed exhausted by the elements.
“It was too much,” she said of the 25 mph gusts, which swirled inside Stadium 1 with even more intensity. “It was tough to play because the ball was really moving and we didn’t really know what’s going on on court. Here because of the altitude as well…In the last few years, I don’t remember [having] such difficult wind and to feel that tough to play a game.”
After Halep took the opener on her third set point, the wind whipped up in the second set, playing havoc with Halep’s usually reliable groundstrokes.
“It’s not a good hair day,” quipped Tennis Channel’s Mary Carillo. Perhaps not a good Halep day either, it appeared, as Martic raced to a 5-2 lead. But the Australian Open runner-up regained her footing, lacing a forehand crosscourt to break to 5-3, held at 5-4 and forced a tiebreaker.
Halep’s self-directed temper, which she has worked on conquering, flashed a few times in the tiebreaker as Martic pulled ahead 5-2, then closed it out — only the second set Halep has lost in four matches.
“Everything I had today frustration [wise], it was because of the wind,” Halep said. “I wanted to do too many things. That’s why I didn’t — I couldn’t stay calm. I panicked a little bit. But you have just to keep the ball in play and just try to find the angles.”
At times, Martic used the conditions to her advantage with an effective drop shot, her backspin making it impossible for Halep to reach. The petite Halep said she tried to allow the wind to help her but admitted it wasn’t easy.
“Your body is sore all the time,” she said.
After the tiebreaker, Halep summoned her coach Darren Cahill and with a smile confessed that she finally listened to him.
“I knew what he told me, but I just wanted to call him to calm me down, which happened after I lost the next game,” she said. “After that, I realized that something is wrong, so I have to calm down. But, yeah, he told me just to hit the ball because I was pushing too much at one point.”
But ultimately, she said, she had to figure it out herself.
“It was good that after 3-1 [in the third], I just woke up, and I realized that I’m not doing the right thing on court,” Halep said. “And it was really good that I can see that and change that, so that makes a big [difference].”
Sporadic play between the Australian Open and Indian Wells due to foot issues has added to her fatigue but accomplished what it was supposed to and Halep said she “feels good. I’m ready to play the next match.”
Osaka, 20, one of just two unseeded players in the final eight, fearlessly out-slugged one of the tour’s true power players and a former world No. 1 to become the first Japanese player to reach the quarters here since Kimiko Date in 1996.
In 2018, after exiting in the first round at Hobart, Osaka reached the Round of 16 at the Australian, her best result at a Slam, and made the second round in Doha as a qualifier and quarterfinals in Dubai, where she lost to eventual champion Elina Svitolina.
“I think she played well, she started well [and] at the beginning, I was a little bit off,” Pliskova said. “I had some chances and she just played a little bit better.”
En route to the semis, the 44th-ranked player has dropped just one set. She is winless against Halep in three tries.