PARIS Title contender Simona Halep pulled through against young pretender Daria Kasatkina in a French Open rollercoaster on Saturday, winning 6-0 7-5 after at first threatening to dismantle the 20-year-old Russian.
The third-seeded Romanian - a beaten finalist in Paris in 2014 - is being tipped as a title favourite after a stellar run-up on clay to this year's tournament.
She romped through the first set of Saturday's third round match in 30 minutes, with an ankle injury she sustained in mid-May giving her no more than a single twinge.
"I felt it a little bit at one backhand, because I turned too much...But doesn't bother me much, so I'm not thinking
about it. I can run, I can slide," she told a news conference.
Kasatkina, who in April won her first WTA title in Charleston, initially found the big-game atmosphere on Court Suzanne Lenglen more of a hindrance than a help.
Her groundstrokes tentative and her movements jerky, she fell back on slices and dropshots as her opponent hit powerfully into both corners from the back of the court.
In their only previous tour match, Halep had triumphed in two close sets on the hard courts of Miami in 2016.
Here she won nine of the first 10 games.
Then the 26th-seeded Russian, the highest-ranked teenager in the world before turning 20 in May, sparked into life.
She won the next four games and held three set points in the 10th game, dominating an opponent who had won in Madrid - one of the two main warm-up tournament for Paris - and finished runner-up in the other in Rome.
But Halep edged through 6-0 7-5, closing out the match with a backhand that stuck the net chord and that Kasatkina failed to return.
"I played really well at the beginning," a relieved and smiling Halep said courtside. "She was coming back really strongly and I think my energy went a bit down... She's a really tough opponent."
Halep will play Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round.
(Reporting by John Stonestreet, editing by Pritha Sarkar)