WATCH: Highlights from Halep's stellar performance

Usually how it goes in tennis is that when you win Wimbledon, you play your next match on Centre Court, twelve months after lifting the champion’s trophy. But Simona Halep’s return to tennis’ most fabled court took place nearly three years after she’d last competed on it. In the 2019 Wimbledon final, Halep played the best tennis of her life, beating seven-time champion Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2. Due to the pandemic, Wimbledon wasn’t played in 2020. A calf injury forced Halep to withdraw from The Championships last year.

Back at last on Centre Court, Halep picked up where she left off. Today she defeated fourth-seeded Paula Badosa, 6-1, 6-2, to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the fifth time. As was the case versus Williams, Halep was flawless. The 2019 final lasted 56 minutes. This one took only four minutes longer.

“It was a great match and I'm really happy with the way I played,” said Halep. “It's always a pleasure to be back on Centre Court. To play against her is never easy. I was really focused and I played well.”

Propelled by superb movement, her signature crisp backhand and a bit more topspin on the forehand than she’s shown in the past, Halep applied pressure magnificently. Formidable as Badosa was in her win over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on Saturday, that mattered little today. Halep’s superb ability to cover the court repeatedly tipped the rallies in the Romanian’s favor. All told, Halep hit 17 winners and only made nine unforced errors. It was just the opposite for Badosa: 21 unforced errors to a scant seven winners.

This marked the second year in a row Badosa had been beaten in the round of 16 at Wimbledon. Her 2021 run was ended by Karolina Muchova, who like Halep is quite mobile—and also, extremely versatile in matters of spin, pace and forward movement. In both losses, though, the limits of Badosa’s flat, baseline-based game were exposed. It was perplexing, though, to hear Badosa in her post-match press conference scarcely analyze what Halep had done to force her to play so badly. “I think everything went wrong,” said Badosa. “She played a good match. But I want to talk about me. I think it wasn't my day today. I tried. I tried my best. I wasn't lucky enough . . . It was just me. I was just going for it. I was just missing. Some days it goes in the line. And some days like today, all of them go out.” It will be interesting to see how the 24-year-old Badosa will seek to understand tennis’ interactive qualities and possibly add new dimensions to her game.


Halep broke the Spaniard five times in the one-sided contest.

Halep broke the Spaniard five times in the one-sided contest.

But the present moment belongs to Halep, a pleasing comeback for the popular 30-year-old. Last August, Halep fell out of the Top 10 for the first time in more than seven years. At the end of 2021, Halep was ranked No. 20. As has long been customary for Halep, she’s worked hard to make her way back, aided by the addition of a new coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. The good news was that prior to playing Badosa, Halep had won 29 matches this year, a total only exceeded by Iga Swiatek and Ons Jabeur. The bad news was that Halep had lost in the round of 16 at the Australian Open and in the second round of Roland Garros, hardly her kind of results. “It means a lot that I'm back in a quarterfinals after I struggled so much with injuries and self-confidence,” said Halep. “But, as I said, I'm working hard every day. I feel like if I do that, I will get better. Actually I'm really happy with the way I'm playing. I'm really confident. It's a pleasure to be on court.”

Asked if it was harder to regain her physical health or confidence, Halep was, again per usual, quite candid. “Both of them,” she said. “When they come together, it's really difficult. But, yeah, it started with the injury, so I was not able to play for three, four months. Then I lost also the confidence, the belief that I can be good again, in the top. And I struggled like a long period. But now it's past. I'm here. I'm playing well. I'm feeling good on court.”

Next up for Halep is Amanda Anisimova. The spirit of resurgence has also flavored Anisimova’s journey. Back in 2019, she made a splash, reaching the semis at Roland Garros. The next two years were challenging, Anisimova’s progress arguably hindered most of all by the sudden death of her father and coach, Konstantin Anisomov, on the eve of the 2019 US Open. But in 2022 she’s advanced considerably. Ranked 30 at the end of ’21, Anisimova’s now up to 20. Saturday, she fought hard to earn a three-set win over recent Roland Garros finalist Coco Gauff. Today, Anisimova was razor-sharp, striking 28 winners in a 6-2, 6-3 win over this year’s Wimbledon Cinderella, Harmony Tan.

Halep and Anisimova have only played one another three times, but already this rivalry has taken some interesting twists. Anisimova won their first match, ending Halep’s Roland Garros title defense effort with a 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal victory. But a year later in Paris, Halep avenged that loss emphatically, beating Anisimova 6-0, 6-1 in the third round when the 2020 edition was staged in the fall. Their most recent match happened less than two weeks ago, Halep winning 6-2, 6-1 in the quarterfinals of a grass-court event, the Bad Homburg Open. Said Halep, “It's going to be a different match. Of course, that match was a great match for me. But I'm expecting a tough one. I'm here to play as I did today, to focus on myself.”