Simona Halep has confidence this season will be even better than her last one despite getting comprehensively beaten by Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Tuesday.
Halep became the highest seed to exit the tournament, the world No3 receiving a 6-4, 6-0 drubbing by Makarova, who took command of the clash from start to finish.
The Romanian, who also made the quarter-finals in Melbourne last year before finishing runner-up at the French Open, hit a shocking 31 unforced errors compared to just 15 winners and was broken five times by the Russian lefty.
Halep had beaten the big-hitting Makarova in their only previous meeting and admits she was taken aback by her change in strategy.
“I was expecting she will hit more stronger, but she didn't. She played very soft tennis today. She opened very well the angles,” said Halep. “So was a different game. She played well. She served very well. Her lefty slice is not easy to give the ball back.”
The 23-year-old says she felt “stressed” stepping on the court but believes she will rebound swiftly from this loss, with her next events being Fed Cup followed by the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in the UAE.
“Last year was a big result for me here. Now I cannot say it's very big, but is enough for me. I started very well this year. I won one title (in Shenzhen), and now I did here a few good matches. I have confidence this year will be better than last year,” assured Halep.
“I just try to improve more in my game, in my mind as well. I think I'm on the right way to go in the top higher.”
Makarova, who made her top-10 debut earlier this month after a great run to her first grand slam semi-finals at the US Open last fall, confessed she is adjusting to the life of being an elite player and says it’s harder for her to face the media than to play a major quarter-final.
The 26-year-old, who grew up idolising ex-Roland Garros champion Anastasia Myskina, is impressively ranked in the top-10 in doubles as well, having formed a successful partnership with Elena Vesnina.
Makarova will take on Russian Maria Sharapova in the last four, after the world No2 thumped seventh-seeded Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2.
Makarova lost all five previous encounters with Sharapova in the past and is hoping to end that streak in the semis tomorrow.
“I never beat her, so it will be tough. Definitely she's a great fighter. Like here on the second round, she almost lost, but she turned around. I'm looking forward. I'm want to enjoy this time and want to rest and we'll see what happen in semis,” said Makarova.
Sharapova had received a stern phone call from her father after having to save match points against Alexandra Panova in the second round and the five-time major champion admits she will do everything she can to avoid getting similar calls in the future.
“In a nice version, it was like ‘this is unacceptable’” she said laughing.
“He's like ‘it is much easier just having a normal home life. You should try it. I don't know why you're suffering out there for nothing. Make it easier for yourself’. He told me that I was working much harder than I had to. If I was maybe a little bit smarter, did a few things maybe a little bit differently, maybe it could have been easier.”
On her looming match with Makarova, Sharapova said: “Besides playing another Russian, I'm also facing an opponent that wasn't necessarily a favorite coming into that stage. That's always a tricky situation because she's going to come into that match free and almost happy to be in that situation, and that's dangerous. I haven't faced a lefty in this tournament yet.
“She's been using her lefty serve extremely well from what I've seen. I'll be looking out for that, work on a few things tomorrow, and be ready for that match.”
Sharapova has a chance of replacing Serena Williams as world No1 but must at least reach the final to have a chance.