Tuesday, March 5, 2019 - Simona Halep plays Kateryna Kozlova in the 3rd of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)
It was a surprisingly competitive BNP Paribas Open third round between No. 2 seed and 2015 champion Simona Halep and unheralded qualifier Kateryna Kozlova, with the Ukrainian pushing Halep to the brink in the first set before the former world No. 1 dug deep to claim a 7-6(3), 6-3 victory after one hour, 50 minutes.
In the first set, Halep, who had never faced her 25-year-old opponent prior to today, would find herself up a consolidated break twice, but unable to maintain her lead against an inspired Kozlova, who was matching the Romanian in depth and throwing off her rhythm with deft drop shots and flat backhands. After trailing 3-5, it was suddenly Kozlova who had the 6-5 lead, even getting within two points of the set, before Halep fended off the challenge to take proceedings into a tiebreak.
To the delight of a large Romanian contingent in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the tiebreak was all Halep, who locked down on her steely baseline play and benefits from a few rare Kozlova unforced errors. After an hour of play, the set was hers.
Although Kozlova would claim an early break in the second, Halep fought back with some of the vintage fight that saw her claim (and struggle to lift!) the trophy in an epic three-setter against Jelena Jankovic three years ago. Up 5-2, however, the reigning Roland Garros champion’s concentration wavered as Kozlova leveled set once again to 5-5.
In the end, Halep would be able to steer her ship steady one last time, sealing the win with a feel-good backhand down the line, her signature shot. She books her place in the BNP Paribas Open fourth round for the fifth time in her career.
Somewhat ominously, she’s never lost a fourth-round match in Indian Wells, something her next opponent will certainly be wary of.