Simona Halep has been one of the pillars of the WTA professional tour since the action shifted to clay. She did great on the grass court too, and now she has entered the North American outdoor hard swing having great expectations but also a lot of points to defend from last year. After a slow start in Washington mostly due to extreme heat, she seems ready for another deep run in Toronto at Rogers Cup. The winner of the tournament last year and the runner-up of 2015 edition, over the past two seasons, she has used this particular segment of the calendar to cement her top spot.

Now, the stakes are even bigger as that elusive world No. 1 seat is still within range. She kicked off her campaign against this year's Wimbledon semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova(33 WTA).

Halep got past Rybarikova in straight sets, faces Strycova next

The 25-year-old Romanian and the second seed in Toronto used her inaugural match as a launching pad for the upcoming weeks on the American hard. Despite winning in straight sets 6-3 6-4, the encounter wasn't that easy as Rybarikova kept a small gap between them for the most part of the match. As the match lasted more than an hour and a half, both players had their moments of genius alternated with unforced errors. Especially in the second set, Simona Halep who pressed harder on the pedal took some extra risk trying to finish off her opponent.

Overall, she was the better player on the tennis court as her opponent seemed to have paid the physical toll toward the end of the match.

As Halep is moving into round 16, Barbora Strycoca(26 WTA) will take on the defending champion. In head to head stats, Halep leads Strycova by 3-1 with the Romanian winning their previous meeting earlier this year on the clay court in Stuttgart, Germany.

If she gets past Strycova, 2017 French Open runner-up will face the winner between Cici Bellis and Caroline Garcia.

Kerber, Pliskova and Muguruza move forward too

Karolina Pliskova who made her debut as a world No. 1 in Toronto got past her opening match too, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets. She faces Naomi Osaka for a place in the quarterfinals.

The former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber got past Donna Vekic in two tight sets setting a clash with Sloane Stephens next. 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is showing no sign of a letdown after winning her second Grand Slam as she battled past Kirsten Flipkens in straight sets. Muguruza and Halep are on a collision course for the semis as they share the bottom half of the main draw in Toronto.