Yanina Wickmayer returns against Simona Halep (photosport.co.nz)
While chaos and mayhem reigns around her, ASB Classic champion Yanina Wickmayer has kept her head to earn a second straight semifinal appearance in Auckland and steal the inside running to retain her crown.
The Belgian second seed, ranked 23 in the world, was completely untroubled to dispense with Romanian Simona Halep 6-0 6-2 in little over an hour yesterday and, with the departure of headliner Maria Sharapova, all eyes are now on her to capture a fourth WTA Tour title.
“Maybe the score doesn’t say much, but it was a tough match,” insisted Wickmayer, who broke serve six times through the match. “She had a lot of chances in the first set, but I managed to get it back.
“I’d played her before and knew if I let her into rallies, she would be tough to beat, so I tried to play aggressive.”
Perhaps the biggest benefit of her quick win in the first match of the day was the chance for Wickmayer to put her feet up and rest, especially after battling through three-sets in each of the first two rounds.
“I’ll go out and serve a little, but not too much,” she said. “I’ve had enough matches … I’ll relax a bit and take care of my body.”
It’s a far cry from four days ago when the bottom half of the KIA Motors Singles draw – Wickmayer’s half – was generally regarded as the more testing and she faced a dangerous first-round opponent in former world number one Danira Safina of Russia.
While the champ has met those challenges, others around her have simply been found wanting.
“I’ve been playing aggressive tennis … that’s important when you are playing good players and you can’t afford to make mistakes.”
The ASB Tennis Centre’s tricky winds have played havoc with players on all courts this week, as they always do, but the fact Wickmayer has enjoyed previous success in these conditions must give her a level of comfort the others are missing.
As she points out, it is a year since she last played here, but at least the environment holds no surprises for her and she understands what adjustments need to be made.
Today, she encounters Chinese Shuai Peng, who produced the first big upset of the tournament when she ousted third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova on Wednesday.
Shuai is ranked 72 in the world, but has been as high as 31 and beaten some highly rated rivals – she has a 7-27 record against top-10 opponents, including wins over Kim Clijsters, Elena Dementieva, Amelie Mauresmo and Jelena Jankovic.
They have tangled twice before with Wickmayer prevailing both times – Antwerp 2008 and in three sets at the 2009 US Open.
“She obviously beat Kuzy this week and I have always had tough matches against her,” offered Wickmayer.
Meanwhile, German fourth seed Julia Goerges rallied from a set down to snatch the final semi spot last night, edging wild card Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine 5-7 6-2
She now faces bolter Greta Arn of Hungary, who holds a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over Goerges. Both those results came in 2005, when unranked Goerges was just 16 and Arn’s ranking had blown out beyond 400.
Friday, January 7
KIA Motors Singles Semifinal – Shuai Peng (CHN) v 2 Yanina Wickmayer (BEL)
not before 1.30pm
KIA Motors Singles Semifinal – Greta Arn (HUN) v 4 Julia Goerges (GER)
KIA Motors Singles Semifinal – Alize Cornet (FRA)/Edina Gallovits (ROU) v Sofia Arvidsson (SWE)/Marina Erakovic (NZL)