Miami Open: Halep sets up fourth round clash against Venus

With current world number one Naomi Osaka faltering at the Miami Open, Simona Halep can return to the top if she wins the tournament.

Simona Halep beat Polona Hercog in the third round of the Miami Open.   -  AFP

Simona Halep kept alive hopes of regaining the world number one ranking Sunday, beating Polona Hercog 5-7, 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 to reach the last 16 of the WTA and ATP Miami Open.

The 27-year-old lost her place at the top of the women's game following Naomi Osaka's triumph at the Australian Open earlier this year. But with the Japanese faltering here on Saturday, Halep can return to the position she last held at the end of 2018 if she lands the Miami Open for the first time.

The Romanian, who will also move up the to the top of the rankings if she reaches the final and Petra Kvitova doesn't win the title, will certainly have to put in a better display than the patchy performance which eventually sent the gutsy Hercog, the world number 93 from Slovenia, out.

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“She played unbelievable and it was such a tough match,” said Halep, who belted 48 winners compared to her opponent's 38 but won just 31% of points on her first serve. It was good to play for almost three hours though. I slowly found my rhythm but I always had belief so if I can keep doing this, I will have a good tournament.”

She next faces seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, who swept past Russian Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-1.

Halep, the 2018 French Open champion and current world number three, arrived in Miami having failed to get past the round of 16 in Indian Wells and the quarterfinals in Dubai.

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She started sluggishly on the center court at Hard Rock Stadium, where Hercog moved into an early 3-1 lead. Halep finally broke back for 4-4 but another sloppy game handed Hercog the opportunity to grab a first set lead which she duly took.

Halep was far more solid in the second, despite missing the chance to draw level when she was broken serving at 5-3 and Hercog kept her nerve make it 5-5.

As the clock ticked past two hours, a brilliant drop shot by Hercog ensured a second set tie break only for Halep to emphatically win it 7-1 before the decider was sealed for the Romanian when she held to love after 2 hours and 50 minutes.