Halep rallies past Duan, ensures top billing for Australian Open


SHENZHEN — World No. 1 Simona Halep assured herself of top billing for the Australian Open after powering past local hope Duan Yingying and into the quarterfinals of the Shenzhen Open in China on Wednesday.

Halep hit 21 winners and won five out of eight break points to prevail 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 and secure her No. 1 ranking going into next week and top seeding for Melbourne ahead of Caroline Wozniacki and Garbine Muguruza.

However, the Romanian did not have it easy until her rival suffered a thigh problem late on in the match after blazing through the first set to take the lead. Caught off guard by Duan's big hitting early on, Halep turned things around in the second set and broke the world No. 91 twice for a 5-1 lead before leveling the contest.

Duan took a medical timeout and returned for the decider with heavy strapping on her left thigh. Halep, who battled past Duan in their previous meeting in Eastbourne last year, took advantage as Duan struggled to find her rhythm and raced to a 5-0 lead. She then subdued a late fightback to seal the win in 97 minutes.

Halep's compatriot and fourth seed Irina-Camelia Begu overcame Russia's Ekaterina Alexandrova 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. She was joined in the quarterfinals by Czech Katerina Siniakova, who beat China's Wang Yafan 7-5, 6-3.

Impressive Wozniacki continues march

In Auckland, Wozniacki continued to build on her WTA Finals victory late last year with another impressive performance on her way to a 6-2, 6-2, victory over Croatia's Petra Martic to reach the quarterfinals of the Auckland Classic on Wednesday.

The Danish world No. 3 ended 2017 with the biggest title of her career in Singapore and returned a day after thrashing Madison Brengle in her season opener to hit 21 winners against eight unforced errors in the 53-minute win over Martic.

Top seed Wozniacki started brightly with a break of serve to love on her way to an early 3-0 lead and added another break in the eighth game to wrap up the opening set in just 24 minutes on a glorious day in New Zealand's largest city.

Martic tried to mount a comeback early in the second when she broke for a 2-0 lead but Wozniacki won the final six games behind impressive serving numbers, including six aces, to book a last eight encounter with young American Sofia Kenin.

Kenin, a 19-year-old wild card, knocked out compatriot Varvara Lepchenko 6-4, 7-6(7/6) earlier in the day and there were also victories for Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova. Hsieh recorded a 6-4 6-3 triumph over Belgian qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure to set up a quarterfinal clash against Strycova after the third seeded Czech edged out Sweden's Johanna Larsson 6-1 6-7(7/3) 6-2.

In the late matches, second seeded German Julia Goerges eased to a 6-4 6-0 victory over Slovakia's Viktoria Kuzmova to book a last eight tie against Slovenia's Polona Hercog, who was almost as ruthless in a 6-4, 6-2 win over Kirsten Flipkens.

Former world No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska continued her strong start to the campaign with a 6-3, 7-5 win over American Taylor Townsend, the Pole holding her nerve in a tight second set that lasted more than an hour to advance. Fourth seed Radwanska next faces American qualifier Sachia Vickery, who defeated Paraguay's Veronica Cepede Royg 6-2, 6-4. — Reuters