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Simona Halep hunger missing on big stage after Australian Open exit

Simona Halep's insipid performance at the Australian Open posed a question: Does she lack the hunger to win on the big stage?

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Neither Ekaterina Makarova nor Simona Halep had lost a set all tournament before their Australian Open quarter-final on Tuesday.

But Halep lost a lot more than that after she walked off the court with her second straight embarrassing last-eight loss at Melbourne Park.

In 2014, Halep was mastered 6-3 6-0 by eventual finalist Dominika Cibulkova - and 12 months on, her output improved by a lone game.

All the numbers were in the third seed's favour heading into the clash - ranking included - with her recent history against left-handers notable.

Halep had not lost to a lefty since August 2011 - amassing 14 straight wins against them - but you cannot beat anyone when you are as tight as the Romanian was on centre-court.

Thirty-one unforced errors littered her performance, and several of them came at critical moments in games against Makarova, who ran out a 6-4 6-0 winner.

The question hanging over Halep's head is: can she handle the big moment?

Both players had seed-less runs to the last eight courtesy of a blessed draw, and the loss of half the seeds in their quarter in round one alone - including the shock departure of fifth seed Ana Ivanovic.

Such an opportunity rarely presents at grand-slam level, with the chance to secure a minimum $650,000 in prizemoney - and a shot at more - on offer for the quarter-finalists.

Instead, Halep seemed satisfied enough with the 'measly' $340,000 on offer for making the last eight.

In fact, she admitted as much at her post-match news conference.

"Last year was a big result for me here. Now I cannot say it's very big but [it] is enough for me," Halep said.

You wouldn't hear Serena Williams or Maria Sharapova ever conceding a major quarter-final was "enough" for them.

Maybe the question is not whether Halep can handle the moment so much as if she wants to.

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