By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Simona Halep proved too strong for Kazakh Yulia Putintseva in their first career meeting as the Romanian fourth seed sailed through to the fourth round of the Australian Open with a 6-1 6-4 win on Saturday.
Former world number one Halep, who reached the Melbourne Park final in 2018, broke Putintseva’s serve three times in the first set and twice in the second.
Halep, who held the WTA year-end top ranking in 2017 and 2018, has not lost a set in her first week at Melbourne Park and was aggressive against Putintseva from the outset.
Her hard-hitting baseline play and excellent court coverage were also full on display as she hit 26 winners.
Putintseva, ranked 38th in the world, broke Halep once in each set and surprised her opponent with some well-disguised drop shots, though her last attempt hit the net to end the match.
“I knew she’s a very good player with the drop shots,” Halep said. “I got a little bit frustrated because I got them, most of them, but I missed them or I just put the ball back and then she passed me.
“So, yeah, it was a little bit of frustration there. But afterwards, I paid more attention to her shots, so it was much better in the end.”
The women’s draw at the year’s first Grand Slam has seen the exit of its previous three champions in Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki and Naomi Osaka.
Karolina Pliskova, Belinda Bencic and Madison Keys are the other top 10 seeds that have not made it through to the second week of the tournament.
“I’m not focusing on others. I know at this level everything can happen, so that’s why sometimes I’m a little bit stressed, sometimes I’m relaxed,” she said.
“It’s just a tournament, and I’m sure that for you guys it’s a little bit of shock when the top 10 players are losing, but it’s life and we cannot be 100% every day.
“So we go ahead, and if I’m still in the tournament, it’s a good thing.”
Twice Grand Slam champion Halep, 28, will next meet the winner of the third-round match between Belgian No. 16 seed Elise Mertens and American Catherine Bellis.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)