Serena digs in to see off Halep

  • Matt Trollope

Serena Williams has emerged triumphant in one of the matches of the women's tournament, beating top seed Simona Halep to reach the Australian Open 2019 quarterfinals on Monday night.

The 23-time major champion held off the gallant Romanian 6-1 4-6 6-4, calling on all her reserves of willpower and serving prowess to prevail.

She will next face Karolina Pliskova – a rematch of their 2018 US Open quarterfinal, which Williams won – for a place in the last four.

"It was a really intense match, and there were some incredible points,” Williams reflected.

"I'm such a fighter, I just never give up ... it's definitely something that’s innate. I just work so hard for every point. And I just feel like it's a miracle that I'm here, I get to do something that I enjoy.

"I love playing tennis and I love being here and I love this court, and it's really cool to be back out and playing again on this court.

"I think overall I'm hanging in there. I think overall I'm solid. I can definitely go to a new level. I have to if I want to stay in the tournament."

How much do we read into Serena’s entrance to Rod Laver Arena?

She marched out as the emcee announced “the world’s No.1 player …” only to wheel around and retreat sheepishly as he continued “… from Romania, Simona Halep!”

Williams might not currently be the world’s top-ranked player, but most acknowledge she’s the greatest female player to have played tennis, and with 23 Grand Slam titles, she is, in reputation and aura at least, the world’s best.

She played like it in a flawless opening stanza, crushing a return winner for 5-1, and belting an ace out wide to take it 6-1 in a mere 20 minutes.

This was Serena’s first match against a world No.1 in almost six years, and she seemed to be playing with a point to prove. Yet Halep would certainly not have enjoyed the prospect of getting comprehensively thumped on one of the sport’s biggest stages.

In the fourth game of the second set, and already trailing by a break, the Romanian played a pivotal game. She’d found the key to her chances; if she could get Serena on the run – which she managed to do in several rallies and clout some winners of her own – then she remained alive in the match.

She broke back for 2-2, and suddenly the dynamic of the contest had changed. A little sting had gone out of Serena’s strokes, Halep was extending the rallies and exposing Williams’ lateral movement, and Serena’s error tally mounted. 

Halep, more aggressive at the same time, snatched a break in the 10th game of the second set to send the match into a third.

MORE: Halep making headway, bit by bit

In an increasingly dramatic, high-quality match, another pivotal moment came in the sixth game of the final set.

Halep led 0-30, and held three break points, but Williams summoned her mighty serve and escaped with a hold for 3-3.

It felt big, and it proved so; Williams broke serve in the next game, and two games later played clean, aggressive tennis, angling two winners to arrive at match point and throwing her arms aloft when Halep sent a final forehand out.

44 Serena Williams
24 Simona Halep

"That's why she's No.1. She literally lifted her game to a new level. I didn't. I kind of stayed at the same level, and I should have looked at my game, as well," Williams said.

"But it's a part of this journey on my way back. It's 10 months (into my comeback), so I can't be too upset at myself. I felt like I did have an opportunity to win that in straight sets, but then I'm playing the No.1 player in the world.

"So I'm still learning, which is, at my age and my point in my career, I think admirable and exciting that I still have things I can learn from."