Simona in the semis: Halep in a hurry to advance

  • Reem Abulleil

Simona Halep did her pre-season training away from home for the first time in her career and the work she put in is clearly paying off as the Romanian put together a ruthless display on Wednesday against Anett Kontaveit to make the semifinals of the Australian Open for a second time in three years.

Yet to drop a set this fortnight in Melbourne, the fourth-seeded Halep needed just 53 minutes to ease past Kontaveit 6-1, 6-1, losing a mere 12 points on serve throughout the match.

Effortlessly covering every inch of the court, and bringing an aggressive game that overwhelmed Kontaveit, who was making her Grand Slam quarterfinal debut, Halep is into a seventh career major semifinal, where she awaits either Garbine Muguruza or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

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“It’s a pleasure to play in Australia and I’m really happy to play my best tennis and go through to the semifinals,” said the 28-year-old Halep on court.

“I felt great today on court, I feel my game, I feel strong on my legs and I knew how to play against her. I’ve just been focused on every game I played, and I really enjoy playing here in Melbourne.”

Halep spent several weeks training in Dubai during the off-season with her Australian coach Darren Cahill, along with Romanian Artemon Apostu-Efremov, who is a new addition to her team.

“I worked a little bit more in the off-season, first time in my life I did the off-season away from home so I could be focused on what I have to do, no days off. This year I started very well and I’m feeling much stronger than before,” said the ex-world No.1.

“Darren has been very important since I met him five years ago, we worked hard on my attitude and on my game, and today I am a better person and a better player, so I thank him for the help he gave me. Here in Australia, I can say it’s my second home, I feel part of this community because I have a coach from Australia.”

Halep lost in the final of the Australian Open to Caroline Wozniacki two years ago but went on to claim a maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros a few months later, and added a second major to her tally last year at Wimbledon.

“I just want to give everything I have the next match and why not I can repeat again?” she said.

“That match [against Wozniacki in Melbourne] wasn’t negative at all, I knew it hurt a lot because I lost 6-4 in the third, and I was serving at 4-3, and I couldn’t finish the match. Maybe I was too nervous at that moment. Maybe that match helped me win my two Grand Slam titles.”

Kontaveit was looking to become the first Estonian to make a major semifinal but the 24-year-old was no match for Halep on Wednesday.

The first break point of the quarterfinal came in game three and Halep capitalised immediately to inch ahead 2-1. The Romanian aced to consolidate a double-break lead for 5-1.

Kontaveit saved a set point on her serve in game seven but Halep kept up the pressure, and converted her second opportunity with a big forehand – her seventh winner of the clash – to go up a set in 29 minutes.

The second set flew by as well, as Halep surged to a 5-0 lead. Kontaveit dug deep to avoid a bagel but it only briefly delayed the inevitable as the world No.3 secured the win on her second match point. Halep finished the encounter with 12 winners, including five aces, against just 10 unforced errors.

With an early finish to her day, will Halep do some scouting and watch the quarterfinal between Muguruza and Pavlyuchenkova?

“I will not watch the match. I will just enjoy the day. I will do some shopping because it motivates me,” she said with a laugh.

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Anett Kontaveit during Wednesday's quarterfinal

Despite the heavy defeat, Kontaveit can still walk away with many positives from this Australian Open. The Estonian world No.31 was sidelined for nearly four months after last year’s US Open due to a virus that led to hospitalisation and surgery.

“I think I can be really proud of myself. I mean, I was out for months and like three months ago I couldn't even jog,” she said.

“Being in the quarterfinals for the first time, I'm so happy with that achievement.

“Simona played an incredible match. I was trying to do everything. I mean, she was just so strong today. I couldn't find a weapon. I was trying to be aggressive, but couldn't hit through her. It was difficult.”