Simona sizzles under the attentions of on-song Barty
18 WTA titles in Halep’s career so far
World number one Simona Halep’s preparations for next week’s Australian Open suffered a huge setback on Wednesday when she was bundled out of the Sydney International, along with fourthseed Sloane Stephens.
The Romanian hadn’t played since withdrawing from the WTA Finals in October with a herniated disc, and was no match for fast-rising Ashleigh Barty, who scored the biggest win of her career 6-4, 6-4.
Halep, the reigning French Open champion and 2018 Australian Open runner-up, had a bye through to the second round, meaning she heads to Melbourne Park for the opening Grand Slam of the year with just one game under her belt.
“It was a great match after almost four months (since the last one). I think I played a good level of tennis but I had no inspiration in some important points,” she said.
“She played really well and deserved to win. But I was also very close to winning.
“No pain at all, that is a great sign,” she added of her back. “The tennis is good, I just have to believe in myself more.”
Australia’s Barty, who ended a breakthrough 2018 with a WTA title in Zhuhai and is now ranked 15, is now in the quarter-finals.
She had already accounted for another French Open winner, Jelena Ostapenko, in the first round.
Halep, without a coach after splitting with Darren Cahill, was first to break in the second set and had a chance to hold for 5-3.
But Barty was undaunted, using her signature court craft to break straight back and secure victory two games later.
“It was extremely difficult conditions, very swirly down at court level. So I figured if I’m going to play Sim anytime, and it’s her first match, it was now. I was very happy to make the most if it,” said Barty.
Stephens was another casualty. The American narrowly escaped defeat in the first round, and slumped out to Kazakh qualifier Yulia Putintseva 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-0, surrendering in the final set.
Rocky return: Simona Halep.