Wednesday 19 June 2019

Williams repels No 1 Halep's fightback

Serena Williams celebrates after winning the match against Simona Halep. Photo: Reuters
Serena Williams celebrates after winning the match against Simona Halep. Photo: Reuters

Simon Briggs

There was a mix-up at the start of Serena Williams's showdown with Simona Halep on Rod Laver Arena, which had the feeling of a final even though there is almost a week of the Australian Open to run.

As the announcer boomed the name of Halep, introducing her as the world No 1, it was Williams who came striding out of the tunnel. She immediately turned on her heel and went straight back inside.

It was an appropriate way to begin, as there has been plenty of debate about who the real No 1 might be. The rankings say Halep but by the time the match was finished, Williams had reaffirmed her position as tennis's alpha female.

It was a fine contest, which had appeared to go Halep's way when she held three break points in the sixth game of the deciding set.

The younger woman had recovered from a chastening first set, which she described as "like being hit by a train," to take control of the longer rallies and reveal Williams's suspect conditioning.

But despite holding the upper hand, Halep could not overcome Williams's greatest asset - that sniper's serve.

Every time she pressed for the break, another bullet would whizz down. Williams eventually held for 3-3 and Halep promptly gave up three of the last four games.

"It was a big fight at three-all," said Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams's coach, after her 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 win. "I think, in that moment, Simona was playing a bit better than her and the danger was real. She knew she should not get broken at that time and she found a way."

Williams's quarter-final opponent will be Karolina Pliskova, the Czech whom she thumped at the same stage of that tournament in New York.

"I didn't play well that match," said Pliskova after an efficient 6-3, 6-1 victory over former Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza. "So for sure it would be good revenge to play her again."

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