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Simona Halep continues brilliant year with win over Maria Kirilenko

Simona Halep of Romania celebrates victory after her

Simona Halep of Romania celebrates victory after her women's singles third round match against Maria Kirilenko of Russia on Day Six of the 2013 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Aug. 31, 2013) Credit: Getty

Before this season, Simona Halep had never won a WTA title. She was just another young player looking for a break, for a toehold on tour.

At the U.S. Open, she's put her best foot forward. On Saturday she advanced to the round of 16 with a thorough beating of Maria Kirilenko, 6-1, 6-0, and she didn't hold back when asked to describe it.

"It was the best match ever for me," the 21-year-old from Romania said. "I played incredible today. No mistakes. Before the match, wanted to be more aggressive on court, and I did very well."

That would be an understatement if you look at her year. She has won four times this season; only Serena Williams has more titles with eight. She won the Open tuneup in New Haven. Among her match victories was one in Cincinnati over Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, who retired after the match.

And now she has three wins here and an upcoming match with Flavia Pennetta, who beat Svetlana Kuznetsova on Saturday.

"I have energy for playing here. I played really good in New Haven, the best week of my life," Halep said. "When I came here, I just wanted to keep my energy on."

While not a hotbed for tennis, Romania has produced one of the game's hottest heads and admirable talents, Ilie Nastase. Virginia Ruzici won the French Open in 1978 and reached the quarterfinals of all the other slams.

"We have a small country but we are a lot of girls in the top 100 now," said Halep, from the Black Sea city of Constanta. "We are just fighting girls. We have power [to] win a lot of matches."

Also advancing Saturday was Ana Ivanovic, who ended the run of American Christina McHale with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory. McHale served for the match in the second set but was broken twice to lose the set. Ivanovic next faces No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka, who defeated the pesky Alizé Cornet, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-2.

This has been a good run for Ivanovic and a good test of her fighting skills. "I really struggled to find my feet around the ball at the beginning of the match," she said. "But I really tried to swing freely and get myself back into the match. I played a great game to break her when she was serving for the match."

McHale is climbing back into the upper ranks after battling mononucleosis at the end of last season. "Last year when I played the Open, I didn't know yet that I had mono," she said. "I didn't know how long the recovery was going to be. I spent a week practicing here. I did feel like I was starting to find my rhythm more. I'm pleased with how I played in three matches. But losing so close, you always feel like you could have done more."

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