Second seed Simona Halep was made to work hard for her win on Friday by 6th-seeded Viktorija Golubic from Switzerland, but the Romanian prevailed 6-2 5-7 6-4 to reach the semi-finals of the Melbourne Summer Set 1 WTA tournament where she will face China’s Zheng Qinwen, who advanced with a battling 7-6(1) 7-6(8) win over unseeded Ana Konjuh.
This is the reason I came and played this tournament, to get myself in challenging situations. I felt like I learned from her while I was playing the match. It was really cool the way she didn't give up at any point and I felt like I should do the same thing and see what happens. Naomi Osaka
Much later in the day, with the schedule disrupted by rain, the top half of the draw was eventually decided when No 1 seed Naomi Osaka from Japan was a 6-1 7-5 winner over Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, and will take on Russian Veronika Kudermetova in the semi-final, who outgunned compatriot Anastasia Potapova, 6-2 4-6 6-0.
Halep gave a blunt assessment after her quarter-final match, saying on court: “Nothing was working today.
“My serve was shit, it really was, and I fought with myself a lot, and found it difficult to control my emotions but she put me in this situation, and put pressure on me.
“But if you want to win, you don’t give up.”
The statistics backed up Halep’s evaluation, with the two-time Grand Slam champion only finding the mark with 58 per cent of her first serves, and coughing up 11 double-faults.
She also made 52 unforced errors, which was 10 more than Golubic, who is ranked World No 43.
Halep looked like she was headed for a comfortable win after cruising through the first set and taking a 4-2 lead in the second, but she then appeared to be hampered by a back injury as her serve started to misfire, allowing Golubic back into the match.
Serving for the match at 5-4, Halep was unable to close it out and both players struggled to hold serve in the third, trading breaks until the Romania dug deep, saving 4 break points in the 7th game and then breaking in the 9th to clock a tough win.
An error-prone Halep smashed her racket before making the break for a 5-4 lead, and heaved a big sigh of relief when she sealed the win on Rod Laver Arena.
“It was really difficult, I have to admit,” said Halep on court, who missed Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the Olympics last year with a calf injury, and ended her season early due to a knee issue.. “I didn’t really trust I could win this match, but I fought till the end.
“I’m very proud of this, because in the past I was working a lot on this way.
“[Golubic] played unbelievable, she was fighting till the end, all the credit to her for this beautiful match.
“I’m really happy that I could be a little bit stronger in the end. Winning this match means a lot.”
Halep, who was an Australian Open finalist in 2018 and quarter-finalist last year, will face China’s Qinwen Zheng for a spot in the final, after the 19-year old qualifier advanced with a battling 7-6(1) 7-6(8) win over unseeded Ana Konjuh from Croatia.
“I’m really happy I have the chance to get used to this court and this atmosphere,” Halep added. “It’s nice to be back, and to be actually fit, even if I didn’t play my best tennis today.”
Zheng is a rising teenager ranked World No 126, who had yet to reach a WTA quarter-final prior to this week, but she beat former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva in the previous round to attain that accolade, and is now a round further after her 2-hour and 5-minute victory over Konjuh.
“Today I was happy with my performance,” Zheng said after her latest win. “I was 1-5 down in the second-set [tiebreak], and in that moment I said to myself, ‘OK, we’re going to go into a third set again, it’s OK!’
“And since then, I started to play more free, and more relaxed, and that’s how I came back.”
Looking forward to her match with Halep, Zheng said of the two-time Grand Slam champion: “She is a really good player. When I was a junior, my father also talked about her to me, like that she is quite a fighter.
“I’m just going to give my best tomorrow, and I believe that I have the level to win, so I have to believe in myself.
“Don’t look at the player as Simona, it doesn’t matter. It’s just what’s open and in front of me, let’s go ahead and try to get this match.”
In the delayed night match, former World No 1 Naomi Osaka beat Andrea Petkovic to reach the semi-finals In Melbourne.
The reigning Australian Open champion blasted her way past the German, charging through the opener in just 26 minutes, but was pushed harder in the second before beating Petkovic in straight sets to set up a semi-final against 3rd seeded Kudermetova.
Osaka set the tone with 3 aces in the opening game, and was in imperious form, particularly in the first set, smashing winner after winner from both sides, and racing to a 5-0 lead before Petkovic was at last able to hold serve.
The Japanese World No 13 did not let up during a near-flawless first set in which she tallied 8 aces and dominated with easy power from the ground.
When she broke Petkovic in the opening game of the second set, it looked like an early night for the four-time Grand Slam champion, but the German lifted her game as Osaka’s dropped slightly and, with improved serving, the former Top 10 player took advantage.
Petkovic, who has said that ‘mentally, I’m at a really good place’ as she embarks on what could be her final season, won 4 of 5 games to take a 4-2 lead.
During this passage of play, Osaka had still managed to come up with some superb shotmaking, including consecutive finesse winners in the 5th game with a reflexed half-volley and a delicate drop shot.
With her back to the wall, she regained her baseline accuracy and her lethal first delivery, levelled the set, then broke at 5-5 before comfortably closing out the match, clocking 38 winners through the 75-minute affair.
Falling behind in the set to someone who was playing better than her was good preparation, Osaka said, ahead of this month’s Australian Open.
“This is the reason I came and played this tournament, to get myself in challenging situations,” she said. “I felt like I learned from her while I was playing the match.
“It was really cool the way she didn’t give up at any point and I felt like I should do the same thing and see what happens.”
In the semi-finals, Osaka will take on 3rd-seeded Kudermetova, who for the second match in a row, posted a 3-set win that included a bagel set, this time overcoming Russian compatriot Potapova, 6-2 4-6 6-0.