Halep vanquishes Venus, sets sights on Serena

  • Michael Beattie

World No.1 Simona Halep will face seven-time champion Serena Williams in the standout fourth-round clash of Australian Open 2019 after downing Venus Williams 6-2 6-3 in imperious fashion. 

The reigning Roland Garros champion, who reached the final at Melbourne Park last year, was fresher and sharper throughout the contest, with Williams’ 33 unforced errors proving decisive. Halep knows Serena will not be so generous. 

“I was super-motivated today,” Halep said before assessing her fourth-round clash with the 23-time Grand Slam champion. 

“I have just to enjoy, and to give my best. I actually have nothing to lose – I play against a great champion. It’s going to be a bigger challenge, but I’m ready to face it.”

No top seed has lost in the third round of the Australian Open in the Open era, and Halep was in no mood to become the first, playing with an intensity that proved too hot to handle for the seven-time Grand Slam champion. 

Williams came into the match with a 3-2 record against the Romanian, but the last of those wins was back in 2013. Halep had won the following two showdowns without dropping a set, including their 2018 clash in Montreal, before adding a third on Saturday. 

“I thought about the match in Montreal,” Halep said. “I knew that she was injured back then, but I knew I had to play similar tennis – fast, quick, to stay very close to the baseline, which I did great today. Also to serve well, because she returns pretty strong; she stays into the court and takes the return very fast.

“I think I played smart, aggressive, and also I moved her a lot. I think that's why I could win.”

Halep was keyed in from the outset, thumping two backhand winners down the line to bring up break point in the opening game. Williams replied with one of her own to hold, but was broken soon after before missing out on four break points – netting on each of them – to trail 4-2.

Both players had spent almost five hours on court to reach the third round, and while Halep was playing with her left thigh strapped, it was Williams whose battle with fatigue seemed the more acute. Her serve lacked its trademark venom as she handed Halep another break by sailing a second forehand long, the Romanian serving out with little fuss.

Things were looking bleak for Williams when Halep claimed a third successive break to open the second set. But the world No.36 dug in, breaking back in the next game and fending off two break points in the third to stay on serve. 

From 3-3, however, Halep found another gear. Clean winners off successive returns brought up break points at in the seventh game, and while Williams saved one with an ace – a missile compared to her previous efforts – Halep unleashed another backhand down the line after a lengthy rally that left the American for dead.

Unforced errors
12 Simona Halep
Venus Williams
33 Venus Williams

With that, Williams’ race was run. Halep closed out the match with another break, fittingly firing a forehand return winner to seal victory before immediately turning her thoughts to Serena.

“It's a bit different, because I only beat her once in my life,” Halep said, having lost to Venus’s sister eight times. “I cannot say much about this match, just that it's going to be a huge challenge for me. 

“It's always great to play against Serena because every time I have to learn something from the match. I think I have to play similar, if I can. I have to be smart, aggressive; I have to move her and give my best. I will not super-think about this because is nothing to think, just go there and play natural and with confidence.”