In a tournament of upsets there was a return to normality. For Simona Halep, back on Centre Court for the first time since she won the title so brilliantly in 2019, her 6-1, 6-2 demolition of the No 4 seed, Paula Badosa, was a timely reminder of just how good she is. It puts her into the quarter-finals for the fifth time and makes her the one to beat again.
Halep hit 17 winners and only nine unforced errors in a near-perfect display, one that lasted only an hour and that sets up an intriguing encounter against the American Amanda Anisimova, who followed up her win over Coco Gauff by taking out Harmony Tan, the Frenchwoman who bamboozled Serena Williams in the first round. If the path to a third grand slam title is not exactly clear, Halep will go into her match with Anisimova as the tournament favourite.
Badosa had lost serve only three times in her first three matches. Halep broke her five times, a relentless, brilliant performance. “I’m really pleased with the way I have played this tournament so far,” she said. “Day by day I’m just looking forward to the next one and giving my best.”
Her best is very, very good, as Badosa found out. The Spaniard has rocketed up the rankings in the past year, winning the title in Indian Wells last October. Bold from the baseline, she had edged out the two-times champion Petra Kvitova in a high-quality match in the previous round. But from the moment Halep threaded a backhand across her at the net to break for a 2-1 lead, she was a distant second best.
Halep has come a long way in the past six months. At the beginning of the year she was considering hanging up her racket, disillusioned with the sport and wondering if it was really worth all the work to get back to the top. A calf injury that made her miss the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics in 2021 had rocked her confidence and she was unsure if she had enough in the tank to get back.
But a couple of good results in early 2022 gave Halep hope and then a trip to the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in France proved to be the turning point. Her former coach Darren Cahill had urged her to spend some time there in the past but she always resisted. In early March she took the plunge and went to train there, meeting Mouratoglou, getting to know him.
Mouratoglou, who helped Serena Williams win the past 10 of her 23 grand slam titles, was initially not available but after speaking to the American, and finding her unsure about her future, the Frenchman said he would be able to coach Halep full-time. She even moved to the south of France and since then has a renewed spring in her step.
As she blitzed her way to victory Mouratoglou was busy standing, fist pumping in familiar fashion. When he began coaching Halep, he said he believed she could get back to winning grand slam titles. On the evidence of her performance against Badosa it could come even sooner than he might have expected.
Halep will not take victory against Anisimova for granted, though. The American beat her at Roland Garros in 2019, when she was the defending champion, and, though Halep has won both their battles since, including a win in Bad Homburg a couple of weeks ago, she knows the American is in form and has the kind of easy power that makes her dangerous on every surface, but especially grass, where her shots get even more reward.
Her 6-2, 6-3 win over Tan was just as impressive as her hard-fought win over Gauff in the previous round.
Alizé Cornet was unable to follow up her victory over the No 1 seed, Iga Swiatek, going down 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, who is through to the quarter-finals for the second year in a row. She will play the No 17 seed, Elena Rybakina, who ousted Petra Martic of Croatia 7-5, 6-3.