Former World No 1 Simona Halep signalled her intent to go the whole way at the Australian Open on Wednesday when she crushed Anett Kontaveit, 6-1 6-1, to reach the semi-finals.
It’s a pleasure to play in Australia and I’m really happy to play my best tennis and go through to the semi-finals. I felt great today on court, I feel my game, I feel strong on my legs and I knew how to play against her. I’ve just been focused on every game I played, and I really enjoy playing here in Melbourne. Simona Halep
The current World No 3 took just 53 minutes to complete her demolition of an adversary who was on a roll herself after producing the best run in her career at a Grand Slam.
Halep was in control from the outset, losing a mere 12 points on serve throughout the match, and has yet to drop a set in Melbourne.
“Perfection doesn’t exist, but I’m very happy with the way I played,” Halep told press after the match.
“I felt great on court. I was moving great. I felt the ball, like, really, really good. It was a great match.”
She effortlessly covered every inch of the court, bringing an aggressive game that simply overwhelmed Kontaveit, who was making her Grand Slam quarter-final debut.
Happy Halep is into a 7th career major semi-final, where she awaits Garbiñe Muguruza, who defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the following match on Rod Laver Arena.
For the first time, Halep did her pre-season training away from home in Dubai with her Australian coach Darren Cahill, along with Romanian Artemon Apostu-Efremov, who is a new addition to her team.
“I worked a little bit more in the off-season, first time in my life I did the off-season away from home so I could be focused on what I have to do, no days off,” Halep said.
“This year I started very well and I’m feeling much stronger than before.
“Darren has been very important since I met him five years ago, we worked hard on my attitude and on my game, and today I am a better person and a better player, so I thank him for the help he gave me.
“Here in Australia, I can say it’s my second home, I feel part of this community because I have a coach from Australia.”
Kontaveit, who is now 24-years old and ranked No 31, was sidelined for nearly 4 months after last year’s US Open due to a virus that led to hospitalisation and surgery.
“I think I can be really proud of myself. I mean, I was out for months and like three months ago I couldn’t even jog,” the No 28 seed said. “Being in the quarter-finals for the first time, I’m so happy with that achievement.
“Simona played an incredible match. I was trying to do everything. I mean, she was just so strong today. I couldn’t find a weapon. I was trying to be aggressive, but couldn’t hit through her. It was difficult.”
Playing in her first Grand Slam quarter-final, Kontaveit opened the match with a strong hold to love, but as Halep started to find her rhythm the Estonian was in trouble, with the Romanian breaking after a lengthy battle to take the lead at 2-1.
Halep capitalised, applying the pressure against Kontaveit by tracking down every ball and returning it with interest while changing the rhythm with occasional drop shots.
Kontaveit did well to fight off 4 break points in her next service game, but Halep eventually earned the break and extended her lead to 4-1.
The Estonian saved a set point on her serve in game 7, but the reigning Wimbledon champion served out the set with confidence, converting her second chance with a big forehand, her 7th winner so far, to go up a set in 29 minutes
She then continued her romp through the second set, reeling off the first 5 games against an increasingly frustrated Kontaveit to lead 5-0 before serving out her spot in the semi-finals.
Although the Estonian dug deep to avoid the bagel, Kontaveit’s resurgence was brief, and the No 4 seed secured the win on her second match point.
Halep finished the encounter with 12 winners, including 5 aces, against just 10 unforced errors and 1 double-fault.
“It’s a pleasure to play in Australia and I’m really happy to play my best tennis and go through to the semifinals,” said the 28-year-old on court.
“I felt great today on court, I feel my game, I feel strong on my legs and I knew how to play against her. I’ve just been focused on every game I played, and I really enjoy playing here in Melbourne.”
It was an almost flawless performance, with Halep on a relentless mission, winning 11 games in a row and finishing off the Estonian with a champion’s flourish on an ace.
She scored a high percentage on first serve, 78% against 48%, while the second was tied at 44%, and capitalised on 5 breaks out of 11 opportunities, while Kontaveit missed the only chance at a break that she had.
The Estonian, however, struck more straight winners, 15-12, but also more unforced errors, 15-10.
Halep, a finalist in Melbourne in 2018, ensured for herself a cheque worth A$1,040,000 and 780 WTA points.
“Any Grand Slam, it’s a priority,” said Halep, who has won both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. “I will not just choose one, but, of course, it’s going to be great if I will be able to win one on hard court.
“It’s different in my mind,” she added. “It’s not easier at all. You still feel the pressure. You still feel the heaviness of this tournament.
“I just feel more confident and I feel like I’m able to do it.
“It’s just a feeling that you don’t see this trophy is impossible anymore. This is what I’m feeling about the Grand Slams now.”
Halep seeks to return to the Australian Open final for the first time since 2018, when she fell to Caroline Wozniacki in the championship match.
“Tomorrow is going to be a tough one, I know that. I expect a very difficult match. But it’s semi-finals, so it should be like that,” Halep said.
“I’m all in. I’m confident.”
She faces Garbiñe Muguruza, who is unseeded but is showing the form that brought her the French Open title in 2016 and Wimbledon a year later to put together her best run at Melbourne Park.
She had only reached one major semi-final since winning at SW19, at the French Open in 2018, and lost her first set of this tournament 6-0 to American Shelby Rogers as she recovered from illness.
From there Muguruza has been inspired and she won a battle of the big hitters, 7-5 6-3, against Russian Pavlyuchenkova, who has now lost all 6 of her major quarter-finals.
Muguruza goes into the semi-finals as the underdog, given the current form of 4th seed Halep.