Wednesday May 27th, 2015

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

A finalist in Paris in 2014, Halep came into the French Open this year after a sub-par series of lead-ups. The lack of confidence showed in her opening match, a nervy straight set win over Evgeniya Rodina. Asked to recall her U.S. Open loss to Lucic-Baroni, Halep said she felt too much pressure in that match and was "blocked" from playing her best tennis. 

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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.

"I was going to have to play a great match again and back up sort of what I did at the U.S. Open," Lucic-Baroni said. "Because sometimes people say, 'Oh, it's one day everything went in,' and I don't look at it like that. I know I played really well. I have been working really hard, and I knew today I had to play some great tennis. I was ready for it."

Clive Mason/Getty Images

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."

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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."

Lucic-Baroni will play 29th seed Alize Cornet in the third round. 
This post will be updated.


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