The Championships saw its highest seeded player exit the tournament today when Jana Cepelova beat (#3) Simona Halep in first round action, 5-7 6-4 6-3. The only previous meeting between the two came at the 2014 U.S. Open when Halep allowed only three games in the second round. Svetlana Kuznetsova stands to benefit most from Halep’s early exit, as the two were slated to meet in the tournament’s third round.
Today’s loss means another early exit for Halep in Grand Slams; Mirjana Lucic-Baroni upset her in the second round at Roland Garros. What was brushed aside as inconsistent play during the clay season can now be considered a veritable slump. Unable to defend her semifinal ranking points from a year ago, Halep could fall out of the top 4, dependent on how well those below her fare the rest of the tournament.
Cepelova is best known for reaching the final of the Family Circle Cup last year, beating Serena Williams in straight sets, then playing one of the matches of the year against Belinda Bencic in the semifinals. It was a breakout moment for the young Slovak tennis player. She saw her ranking jump as high as #50 in May, settling at #53 by year’s end. It was the kind of year that highlighted Cepelova as one of the young players to watch going forward.
It has been a bad year for Cepelova until now, losing her first five matches, including a 6-0 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Venus Williams right off the bat in Auckland. She didn’t win her first match until Charleston in April, and has lost in the first round nine times thus far in 2015. Cepelova’s play has been so wayward that she entered The Championships ranked 106th. She’s won back-to-back matches at an event only once all year, and made it past the first round at only four tournaments. The net result is a 6-13 W-L record in 2015.
Halep was undone by seven double faults and 34 unforced errors against 24 winners. Neither woman protected her serve, with Cepelova managing to break Halep’s serve eight times while surrendering seven herself. The biggest difference in the match came on second serves, where Halep was only able to win 30% of points after failing to find the court on her first serve. Cepelova converted 50% on second serves while surrendering only one double fault.
Halep led 7-5 and a break to start the second set, before losing her grasp on the match. Cepelova broke to take the second set with Halep serving at 4-5. Again, Halep broke to open the third set, before Cepelova immediately brought the match back on even footing. Cepelova then burst to a 4-1 single break lead, threatening to run away with the match. When Halep secured the break back at 3-4, one sensed she was now on a more direct course to the second round. Instead, she lost her serve at love, before Cepelova served out the set and match, 6-3.
Cepelova gets Monica Niculescu next, against whom she won a solitary game in their only meeting last year.
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