Auckland | Serena survives McHale scare
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Serena Williams survived a scare in her second round match at the ASB Classic in Auckland on Thursday, forced to battle back after a bumpy start against compatriot Christina McHale.
I got myself in a hole, but I got myself out, so that was satisfying, Serena Williams
In exactly two hours, the top seed eventually came through, 3-6 6-2 6-3, after the younger American won a set against the all-time great for the third time in the pair’s four career meetings, but again proved unable to pull off the upset.
“I got myself in a hole, but I got myself out, so that was satisfying,” Williams said after facing a determined opponent in the swirling winds.
“It was a good match for me, because I really need to play matches like that to get to my goals.
“Tournament time is super important and match time is good. It’s fun to be out here after losing that first set, and I’m glad I’m still in the event.
“I just thought I needed to figure out a way to win this match.”
Williams dropped serve three times during the opener, but managed to find her footing on the court after dropping the opener.
Frustration motivated her to turn her fortunes around.
“I think today I just got mad,” she explained. “Honestly, I said I wanted to win more than one match here in New Zealand, so I could do this.
“I literally thought about that and sometimes it’s the craziest things that get you motivated.“
The 38-year-old is hoping for a strong run this week in New Zealand ahead of her campaign at the Australian Open, where she aims to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles.
It was also in Melbourne where she won her last trophy back in 2016 when she was pregnant with her first daughter.
A complete contrast to Williams’ first-round foe, Italian Camila Giorgi, the 27-year-old McHale from New Jersey used her counter-punching skills and foot speed to great effect over the course of the first half of the match, extending rallies and forcing the 23-time Grand Slam champion into hitting one more ball, resulting, often, in an unforced error.
The World No 10 did find a late spark in the opener after losing 4 of the first 5 games of the match, and carried that momentum across the second and third sets.
Williams broke McHale a combined 5 times to complete the comeback, surrendering her own serve just once over the course of the next two sets.
Another American will not stand between Williams and a semi-final berth, however, thanks to German veteran Laura Siegemund.
The former Top 30 player came from a set down herself to defeat 15-year-old Coco Gauff earlier in Thursday’s day session, 5-7 6-2 6-3, and the two will face off for the first time in nearly four years in the last eight.
The German dropped a tightly-contested opening set, but never deviated from her game plan of mixing up the rhythm with her crafty forehand slices and dropshots, striking 27 winners and breaking Gauff 8 times en route to victory.
It was a solid display from the 31-year-old, who suffered a terrible right knee injury in 2017 and has struggled to regain her world-beating form.
Vexing her opponents with her wicked forehand slices and ability to change the pace of a rally, Siegemund has earned a reputation as a tricky opponent, and she employed all of her range against Gauff on Auckland’s Stadium Court.
“I’m still learning and that’s the problem that I have.” admitted Gauff later, who hit 7 double faults and 49 unforced errors.
“I didn’t play the right way and if I lost playing the right way it would have been fine, but I don’t think I was playing the right way.”
Also through to the last eight is Caroline Wozniacki, who is Williams’ partner in the doubles.
The 5th seed needed more than two hours to see off another American, Lauren Davis, 6-1 4-6 6-4, and next plays defending champion Julia Goerges from Germany.
“I got a little lucky in the end and it could have gone both ways,” she admitted. “She’s a great player and she fought very hard today but so did I.
“When you’re playing well and your opponents played well, and you push each other to play at a high level. Those are the fun matches to play.”
Goerges, the 4th seed who has yet to drop a set this year, came through in straight sets against Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, 6-2 6-3, to reach the quarters.
“She’s a good player, big server, big forehand. She’ll try to be aggressive. I’ll just have to play well myself,” Wozniacki concluded.