PARIS – Sometimes a player just has your number. For the second time in the last three majors, No. 70 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has ended No. 3 Simona Halep's tournament. Lucic-Baroni once again found her best level to beat Halep 7–5, 6–1 to advance to the third round of the French Open. The Croatian veteran also beat Halep in the third round of the U.S. Open last fall.
On Wednesday it was déjà vu. Halep never looked sharp or comfortable throughout the match, which lasted just 71 minutes. Lucic-Baroni was able to win 80% on her first serves and 54% on her second serves, which Halep, one of the best returners in the women's game, struggled to read. Lucic-Baroni fired 29 winners to 27 unforced errors, while Halep mustered just five winners and hit 15 unforced errors. The Romanian simply could not adjust to Lucic-Baroni's flat hitting, which was exacerbated by the warmer conditions on Wednesday.
What is disconcerting for Halep is how she's exited from her last three majors. At the U.S. Open she lost a tight first set to Lucic-Baroni only to give away the second set 6–2. At the Australian Open quarterfinals in January she lost a close first set 6–4 to Ekaterina Makarova only to disappear in the second, losing it 6–0. She vowed after losing to Makarova that she would never go down without a fight again. But the trend continued on Wednesday.
"I couldn't feel that I'm prepared 100% to play on clay court, but, I have to accept this," Halep said. She came into the tournament failing to make a clay-court final on her best surface. "I have to take day by day. I worked a lot. Maybe too much. That's why I was contracted and I couldn't play. I couldn't feel the game."
One positive from Halep's perspective is she seems to have identified what's gone wrong in her game. After a strong start to the season that saw her win three titles in Shenzhen, Dubai, and Indian Wells, she feels she's tinkered with her game too much as she's prepared for clay.
"Maybe I changed a bit the strategy of my practices," Halep said. "I just wanted to hit too strong maybe, and to change the game is not good. I have to play like what I feel on court and just to be like, to create the game. So I started to hit the ball too strong, and that is not my style. I don't feel it, and I don't handle it. So I have to go back, you know, in my game and just to train again how I did till now."