Simona Halep, who revealed herself as a serious Wimbledon challenger last year, has suggested she may be even more dangerous this time around after an impressive start to her grass court campaign.
The top-seeded Romanian hit the ball overcame British wild card entry Naomi Broady 6-4 6-2 to reach the third round of the Aegon Classic, a Wimbledon warm-up event in Birmingham.
Halep’s ground-stroking skills were remarkably forceful, and after breaking serve with perfect timing to reach 5-4, served out for the first set and tore through the second.
“I think I can say that I have the style to play on grass because my style is to play fast. I stay low because I am not very tall, so it helps me to stay there and to take the ball very quickly,” she said.
“I served really well today. I improved a lot on my serve. Now I have to improve more in my return.”
Halep will next play either Caroline Garcia, the 16th seeded Spaniard, or Klara Koukalova, a Czech qualifier, and if she wins again could have a tasty revenge opportunity in the quarter-finals against Eugenie Bouchard, the Canadian who denied her a place in the Wimbledon final last year.
Earlier, the former world number one Victoria Azarenka said she still dreams of winning Wimbledon, despite revealing some of the frustrations she has suffered in the last couple of years during an up-and-down opener.
Repeated injuries have prevented Azarenka from winning a title for 22 months, and she was five times within a point of going 0-5 down against Vavara Lepchenko, an American ranked outside the top 30, before fighting back, with a mixture of fierce hitting and varying confidence, to win 7-6 (9-7) 6-4.
“The most important thing I changed was the mindset,” she said.
“It can put you down or lift you up. So it is part of your job to chose which way you want to go – up or down.”
It was, she concluded, “still a dream” to win Wimbledon.
She next plays Zarina Diyas, the world No.34 from Kazakhstan.
Another former world No.1 Jelena Jankovic also made a winning start. The Serbian is another making her way back from injuries but looked comfortable as she overcame Tereza Smitkova, the world No.62 from the Czech Republic, 6-4 6-4.
The loquacious Jankovic has not enjoyed a good grass court Grand Slam for four years, and this year is trying to put that right by playing two build-up tournaments instead of one.
Jankovic next plays Australian Casey Dellacqua, the world No.67 who was a surprise semi-finalist in Birmingham last year.