Melbourne | Serena sweeps aside Halep
Serena Williams toppled World No 1 Simona Halep in three sets on Monday at the Australian Open to reach the quarter-finals.
I really needed to elevate my game she is the number one ranked player in the world and there is a reason why - she is a really great player Serena Williams
From the moment she inadvertently stepped onto court ahead of Halep, and quickly retreated back to await her own introduction, to the shaking of hands on completion of the match, it was Serena’s territory.
That she wants her top ranking back is clear and that will surely follow if she can bag her 24th Grand Slam title this coming weekend to equal Margaret Court’s record.
Halep walked out literally in Williams’ wake, both figuratively and literally, and could so nearly have won the match, but she didn’t.
It was a contest that sizzled and Halep may have lost it but was not beaten, offering a fightback deserving of her current ranking against the relentless Williams.
The Romanian has come back from a severe back injury that kept her from competing after the US Open and while she has been stretched all the way to this point, this was a match worthy of any final.
“It was a really intense match,” Williams said.
“I really needed to elevate my game she is the number one ranked player in the world and there is a reason why – she is a really great player.”
Serena, wearing the self-designed green outfit evidently inspired by her toddler daughter’s jump suits, lost the first game of the night on her serve.
It proved to be a generous offering because she then won the next 6 games straight and the World No 1 was wiped out of the first set in just 20 minutes.
Halep caught her breath, settled and changed tack, calming herself down for the second set and approaching it differently.
She was riskier after the slap in the face of the first set.
She got her returns deeper into the court and kept Williams on the back foot, using her fitness to work the American around and determined to keep herself in points longer, outlasting her opponent with her superior conditioning.
It slowly turned the tables and, the longer she stayed in a point, the more likely she was to win it as Williams offered more unforced errors.
Halep was rewarded with the second set and, after being unable to hold serve, she was now unable to lose a point on her delivery.
The longer the match went, the stronger Halep became, and as the standard lifted, the consequence of the outcome grew higher still.
The prize for victory was not just a quarter-final berth but the vindication of prevailing over this opponent above all others, and it was true for both players.
The point of the night came in the 7th game of the 3rd set when Williams pushed Halep wide off the court, reaching for a forehand disappearing into the bunting.
The Romanian stretched for it, swiped the ball across the court and left Williams with nothing to do with her racket but hold it high and clap in admiration.
The American absorbed the moment, moved onto the next point and won the game, breaking Halep’s serve.
It was all she needed to close the match out from that precious break after an hour and 47 minutes of enthralling play.
“I needed to play a bit like I knew I could play and I did that and hopefully that was the difference,” she said.
After her 6-1 4-6 6-4 victory, Williams next meets 2016 US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova, who dispatched an under par Garbiñe Murguruza, 6-3 6-1, in just one hour.
“I’m such a fighter, I never give up,” declared Williams after the epic encounter.
“It was an intense match and there were some incredible points, but I love playing tennis, and being out here and I love this court, it’s really cool to be back.”
That she is back there can be no doubt.