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.