Halep cruises to landmark win over Sharapova in Beijing
Simona Halep secured a first career win over Maria Sharapova to serve a warning to her rivals at the China Open.
Sharapova had won all seven of the pair's previous meetings, including an epic in the first round of this year's US Open, but world number two Halep was a class apart on Wednesday, winning 6-2 6-2 in 72 minutes to move into the quarter-finals.
The Russian's return to the sport has featured matches littered by unforced errors, with 39 in this match preventing her from getting on top, as Halep's greater mobility and a fine outing on serve combined to give the contest a one-sided feel.
With the top ranking again on offer for Halep in Beijing, her high-pressure credentials look set to be tested, but this dominant victory over a former world number one suggests it could be fourth time lucky for the Romanian in 2017.
The Beijing crowd remained at Sharapova's back throughout, but she endured a miserable start to the contest as Halep immediately broke to love.
A topsy-turvy start was halted by Halep when she secured the first hold in game four as Sharapova struggled to handle a glut of looping forehands, while attacking the Russian's second serve helped the second seed open up a 4-1 lead.
Halep held again from 30-0 down and the Romanian brought out a rarely seen accuracy on delivery when serving for the set to move ahead.
Sharapova survived an epic 10-minute opening game to the second set, but Halep's subsequent hold to love displayed the gulf in performance and a searing service return would set Halep up to break for a 2-1 lead.
Halep stuck gamely to her task from there, rallying until the Sharapova errors came, but she clicked up a gear in game seven, reading a telegraphed Sharapova shot under a high ball to produce a spectacular rocket up the line en route to another break.
A monstrous ace brought up Halep's first ever match point against Sharapova and another unreturnable serve helped her overcome the mental block of beating the Russian. Whether she can surmount the rankings remains to be seen, with Agnieszka Radwanska or Daria Kasatkina awaiting in the last eight.