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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, March 24, 2017

A disengaged Simona Halep dropped the second set in disquieting style prompting a visit from coach Darren Cahill, who urged his charge to make some noise.

“Stay focused, light on your feet, let me hear you hit the ball,” Cahill told Halep before the third set began.

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The third seed created a clatter in the final set.

Crunching shots with more ambition, Halep held off talented teenager Naomi Osaka, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, in a Miami Open match that featured a few rain interruptions and patches of up and down play.

It was Halep’s fourth victory of the season—and a much-needed win.

The 5-foot-6 Romanian missed the middle east swing in February due to a knee injury and arrived in Miami without successive wins to her credit this season.

It was moving day in Miami.

A gritty GarbiƱe Muguruza fought off a match point at 5-6 in the tie break rallying past Christina McHale, 0-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 into the third round in a tense match that spanned two days.

McHale led 6-0, 3-2 when play was suspended last night. Unable to convert match point, McHale went up a break to open the third set. Both players were tense throughout the decider. Muguruza broke twice in the final set to earn an emotional two hour, 22-minute victory.

While Halep moved into the third round for the fifth straight year, Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina and 25th-seeded Roberta Vinci were both bounced out in the second round.

Wild card Ajla Tomljanovic toppled 13th-seeded Vesnina, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, in a match that began yesterday. It came a month after Tomljanovic stopped sixth-seeded Genie Bouchard, 7-6 (4), 6-1, in Acapulco that was her first Tour-level match in 13 months.




Tomljanovic, who was sidelined by shoulder surgery and subsequent recovery, will face former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova for a spot in the round of 16.

American left-hander Taylor Townsend swept Vinci, 6-3, 6-2, to reach the third round.




In their first meeting at Roland Garros last May, Osaka played aggressive baseline tennis taking the first set from Halep before falling in three.

In today’s rematch, both women started strong on serve.

Moving quickly laterally, Halep stamped a second straight love hold for 3-3.

Osaka let a 40-15 lead slip, slapping a crosscourt backhand into net for the first deuce. She tamed the tricky breeze and first test of the day holding for 4-3.

Racing up to a net-cord shot, Halep crunched a forehand winner down the line for the first break point of the set. Osaka scattered an inside-out forehand off the top of the tape as Halep broke for 5-4.

In a confident close, Halep slid an ace down the middle for triple set point then coaxed an errant forehand sealing her third love hold for a one-set lead after 33 minutes of play.

A clean set gave way to chaos for the former French Open finalist, who littered errors all over the court and into net.

Osaka overwhelmed Halep on a four-game run to start the second set that was interrupted by a brief rain delay. The third seed slapped another error into net dropping the second set.




Osaka effectively used the slice serve wide on the deuce side, sometimes drove her backhand down the line to challenge the Romanian’s forehand and cracked some sharp inside-out forehands.

An empowered Osaka held at love to start the final set.

In the third game, the power player knocked off a volley to save break point then cranked a twisting ace to save a second break point.

Halep continued to apply pressure hitting deep returns right back at her 19-year-old opponent’s feet. Osaka bounced her Yonex racquet after netting a forehand to face a third break point then clanked her first double fault of the match to gift the break and a 2-1 lead to Halep.

Squandering a 30-love lead, Halep decelerated on a 74 mph second serve double faulting to drop serve in the sixth game.

A frustrated Halep bounced her Wilson racquet off the court then tried to put more sting in her shots.

One area Osaka can improve is her readiness and preparation after serving. Often, Halep played the deep, hard return right back at Osaka, who struggled to cope with that shot. Deep returns helped Halep pounded out a love break for 4-3.

Then showers erupted again. When play resumed Halep held at 15 for 5-3.




Reading the wide served, Halep smacked a forehand return down the line for a second match point. Stepping in to greet a second serve, Halep hammered a backhand return down the line to close the match.


 

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