Halep could pull off surprises in US Open

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Simona Halep of Romania hits a return against Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic during their 2016 US Open Women’s Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on Friday. AFP PHOTO

Simona Halep of Romania hits a return against Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic during their 2016 US Open Women’s Singles match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on Friday. AFP PHOTO

NEW YORK: If we’re looking for metaphors for Simona Halep’s game right now, the roller coaster would seem to be the obvious choice.

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She hates them, she revealed this week.

“First time in my life and never again,” she said of her terrifying ride on one at Kings Island in Ohio last month.

Her coach, Darren Cahill, assured her it was tame enough for a novice, but it didn’t turn out to be tame enough for Halep.

“I felt that I am dying,” she said with a laugh of her experience on the baby coaster. “I said, ‘Darren, never again.’”

Sometimes, watching Halep play, you wonder whether Cahill would like to turn the tables on that conversation. As much as the Romanian hates the highs and lows that come with a real roller coaster, she seems to love to send herself—as well as her coach and her fans—on a topsy-turvy emotional ride when she plays.

Judging by the score, Halep’s 6-3, 6-4 second-round win over Lucie Safarova on Thursday was a fairly smooth outing under the new roof in Arthur Ashe Stadium. It wasn’t pretty, by any means—there were 11 breaks in 19 games, and Safarova uncorked 44 unforced errors—but Halep never trailed. She made a nice early adjustment to Safarova’s lefty slice serve, and kept her taller opponent at bay from the baseline. And Halep closed well: She won the last three games of the first set, and the last two of the second.

“I felt really well [hitting]the ball,” Halep said of life under the roof. “I like indoors.”

Halep has been feeling the ball well in all conditions of late. She has won 22 of her last 25 matches and 15 of 16 since Wimbledon. Whether she likes the amusement parks in North America or not, she has learned to like the tennis courts here. Indian Wells, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, Cincinnati, New York: Over the years, this has become the core of her season, the time when she racks up her prize money and ranking points.

So why, after winning the first set over a quality opponent, did Halep chuck her racquet to the ground the minute that (minor) adversity struck at the start of the second? Yes, her serve had been broken, but that was nothing to get too angry about in this one.

“I cannot hide my emotions too good,” a smiling Halep said afterward when asked about the seemingly premature racquet toss. “But sometimes it helps me.”

She was right: Halep broke back in the next game.

Halep says she’s working on controlling her emotions, but admits “I don’t know how.”

Like every expressive player, Halep doesn’t want to become too controlled, and as she showed on Thursday, a little fuse-blowing can let a player calm down and get back to business.

More dangerous for Halep are the times when she rushes from one poor point to the next and carries the negativity along with her. That happened in the first set, when she let a 3-0 lead turn into 3-3. Fortunately for Halep, Safarova was too erratic to take advantage. Whatever Halep says about being more relaxed on court these days, it will only last until the next time she has her serve broken.

Watching Halep live, you get a feel for what frustrates her: At 5’6”, she’s constantly—to use a different metaphor—playing uphill. Safarova, who is 5’10”, loomed over Halep from the baseline, and the Czech typically dictated the rallies. Halep looks like she has to work twice as hard—to leap and grunt and launch herself into the ball—just to stay on level terms. She knows it, too. Halep always talks about feeling (or not feeling) enough “power” in her legs to compete at her best.

TNS

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