By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — No. 2 seed Simona Halep has punched a ticket to her second Miami Open semifinal, overcoming the dangerous No. 18 seed Wang Qiang, 6-4, 7-5, on Stadium Court on the second Wednesday of the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú. Halep’s victory keeps her alive and in the hunt for the World No. 1 ranking come Monday — she will have to reach the final to reclaim the top ranking.

Ascending to the peak of women’s tennis for the first time in October of 2017, Halep went on a great run in the first half of 2018, reaching the final of that year’s Australian Open before claiming her maiden Grand Slam at Roland Garros. But despite a win at the Rogers Cup in early August, the second half of the year was a struggle for the Romanian. She fell in the third round at Wimbledon, withdrew from the WTA Finals due to a back injury, and suffered shocking first round exit at the US Open.

Combined with Naomi Osaka’s run to two consecutive Grand Slam titles and her failure to defend her points from a run to the final Melbourne in 2018, Halep let slip of the top ranking at the end of January 2019.

With her gritty win over Wang, though, she stands a chance to ascend to the peak for the third time in her career. Hustling around the court per her usual “Simo” style, the 27-year-old mixed excellent ball retrieval with punctuating bursts of power to outwork her Chinese opponent in the first set. She would acquire a quick break in Wang’s first service game and not look back, en route to taking the opener, 6-4.

The start of the second, however, was night and day from the first set. Wang’s shot selection proved especially troublesome for Halep and the former was hot out of the gates, taking a 5-1 lead. But the champion mentality in Halep never wavered as she fought back to win six games in a row to advance to the quarters. Wang’s downfall — she failed to convert on six break points.

“Well, yeah, that second set until 5-1 down was not great,” Halep explained. “I started to be a little bit negative and talking around the court. But I was able to stop that. What was much better then, I focused on the game. I think I did it pretty well.”

Halep will play the winner of the match Wednesday evening between No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova and unseeded Marketa Vondrousova. If she wins and moves on to the final, she will leapfrog Osaka and current No. 2 Petra Kvitova to restore herself to No. 1 in the world.

On the prospect of returning to the top spot, Halep said, “I just found out from my coach that I need one more match to be No. 1 again. I think it’s pretty much in my head, and I’m happy that I’m in this position again. Gives me confidence because… I didn’t believe I would be so close again so fast. So it’s going to be a big challenge, but I like to play with the pressure. So I hope tomorrow I play my best.”