Aftermath: Simona Halep d. Eugenie Bouchard

It’s the future of the WTA, conveniently encapsulated in one fourth-round match at Indian Wells.

Earlier today, sixth-seeded Simona Halep took on 18th-seed Eugenie Bouchard, the first meeting between these two young women. It’s a matchup we’re sure to see many more times, and it is a study in contrasts, between Bouchard’s aggression and Halep’s savvy defense.

What we witnessed today in this much-anticipated meeting was a weird amalgamation of three different possible outcomes. Halep dominated the first set 6-2, rarely missing and often leaving Bouchard flat-footed. Genie returned the favor in the second, playing much more aggressively and forcing errors from the Romanian to win 6-1. In the decider, the pair finally played some quality tennis at the same time, giving us longer rallies, craftier play, and a a glimpse into what this matchup might look like in another couple of years. For now, Halep appears to be the steadier presence, saving her best tennis for the tail end of the third set, ultimately triumphing 6-4.

Had Halep brought her game of six months ago, it wouldn’t have been enough. Her most striking improvement since the end of last year, perhaps attributable to new coach Wim Fissette, is her aggression on serve. She’s never going to hit many aces, or even earn many cheap points, but today she aimed for the corners today like I’ve never before seen her do.  Genie was still able to neutralize her serve–she broke the Romanian five times–but it could’ve been much worse.

The most dramatic contrast between the two players is in their footwork. Much has been said of Halep’s anticipation and court savvy, and she rarely gets caught out of position. While Genie’s sloppiness isn’t as bad as, say, Sloane Stephens’ can be, it did cost her plenty of important points today.  Tellingly, Bouchard attempted six forehand swinging volleys, missing five of them. One of those five came was particularly cringe-worthy: At 30-15 in her final service game, it opened the door for Halep to break and win the match.

While Simona came out on top, Genie should be encouraged by her performance today. After a pep talk from her coach Nick Saviano at 0-5 in the opening set, she won eight of the next ten games–partly because she tightened up that footwork. She broke serve to lead 4-3 in the deciding set even when Halep was playing reasonably well. As bad as the matchup looked for her in the first set, when Simona’s retrieving skills forced her to play the sort of patient tennis she isn’t comfortable with, Bouchard must feel like she can win their next meeting.

Halep’s next challenge is a quarterfinal matchup with Casey Dellacqua, another first-time opponent. If she reaches the semifinal, her opponent will be either Agnieszka Radwanska or Jelena Jankovic, two women she has already beaten this year. Indian Wells is shaping up to be yet another step forward for the young Romanian.