The clear-cut world no. 2 of the 2015 season, Halep's mere presence in the draw of the international level event in Guangzhou probably caused hearts to sink among the other competitors. Fresh off a semi-final in the US Open – not to mention two finals in the Premier Mandatory tournaments prior – Simona is showing no signs of slowing down, underlining that fact with her 6-4 6-2 defeat of Petra Martic on Tuesday. Her last opponent may have been ranked outside the top 100, but she had previously been ranked as high as no. 42 in the world, and had won the duo's only previous meeting.
Next up to take on the Romanian is a more threatening name in Timea Babos. A top 100 player while still in her teens, the Hungarian endured something of a wander in the desert once the ranking points from her only previous WTA title slipped away. Contesting ITF tournaments regularly, the talented 22-year-old is now beginning to truly find her feet, as the talent once pinpointed gently matures. An experienced doubles player, Timea made it the Wimbledon final in the women's competition this year, after her singles campaign had ended in the second round with a promising showing against Serena Williams.
Now ranked world no. 76, Timea is still playing her fair share of qualifying tournaments, but her progress is evident. She qualified for Cincinnati last month and made the second round, defeating Heather Watson and Samantha Stosur before world no. 7 Karolina Pliskova stopped her in her tracks.
In small ways, both Simona and Timea are on an even playing field in Guangzhou, as neither have contested the event before, and each progressed on Tuuesday with straight-forward first round wins. But pile Simona's many outside achievements in the sport on top of this, and Timea Babos is going to be praying that her strong shots and big serve are as strong and big as possible when match time dawns.
Halep leads the head-to-head with Babos 1-0, her lone win coming in the 2013 edition of Budapest by the scoreline 7-5 6-1. Timea Babos, it is true, is an improved player since those days. But then again, so is Simona Halep.
Halep and Babos will face off in Guangzhou on Wednesday at 7 pm local time (12 pm BST).
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