By Steve Gorten
KEY BISCAYNE – Chants of “Si-mo-na! Si-mo-na!” rang out during every changeover Monday night and several other times throughout the match, with some fans circled around stadium court proudly waving Romanian flags.
And for the final five games, Simona Halep kept feeding their fervor.
Halep, the world’s third-ranked player, rallied from 5-2 down in the second set to finish off 28th ranked Italian Flavia Pennetta 6-3, 7-5 and capture the final women’s quarterfinal spot at the 2015 Miami Open.
Halep will face unseeded American Sloane Stephens in the quarterfinals.
“It was amazing. They were supporting me a lot, and it’s really nice to play with such big support,” said Halep, the tournament’s No. 3 seed.
It was Halep’s first win in four head-to-head meetings against Pennetta. After dominating the first set, she relinquished control to Pennetta in the second. Halep double-faulted twice in a row to lose one service game and Pennetta, who ended 2014 ranked No. 13, capitalized on her opportunities.
“I took a step behind the baseline and she went up 5-2 very fast,” Halep said. “I told myself I have to be more aggressive and hit the ball deeper. I did everything to win after that. I was focused for every point. I wanted to win in two sets.”
Halep and Pennetta slugged it out from the baseline all night, producing some riveting long points. With Pennetta serving at 5-all, the two players pounded the ball back-and-forth until Halep finally claimed the point for a crucial love-30 lead. She broke serve, and then on match point, blasted a backhand winner cross-court.