Halep outlasts Kerber in thriller

  • Romanian saves two match points to set title clash with Wozniacki as both seek their maiden Grand Slam title
- Associated Press, MELBOURNE

Jan 26, 2018-

For the second time in the tournament, Simona Halep faced match points and knew one mistake would mean an exit from the Australian Open and the likely loss of her No 1 ranking.

For the second time in just over a week, she attacked rather than take the safe approach. The 26-year-old Romanian saved two match points and needed four of her own against 2016 champion Angelique Kerber before winning 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in the semi-finals. Halep will face No 2 Caroline Wozniacki in the final on Saturday, with one of them guaranteed to win a first Grand Slam title. The winner will also be No 1 when the next rankings are released. Wozniacki, who beat Elise Mertens 6-3, 7-6 (2) in 1½ hours in the first semi-final, hasn’t held the top ranking in six years.

For Halep, playing in her first Grand Slam as the top seeded player, it’s a first major final beyond the clay courts of Roland Garros. She lost French Open finals to Jelena Ostapenko last year—having led by a set and a break—and to Maria Sharapova in 2014. For Wozniacki, it’s her first Grand Slam final outside of America. The two-time US Open runner-up also had to save match points to reach her first Australian Open final. She rallied from 5-1 down in the third set of her second-round win and said she’s been “playing with the house money” ever since.

Previous Australian Open winners have saved match points en route to the final, but no woman has done it in two matches. Halep is hoping to change that, saying that saving triple match point in her third-round win against Lauren Davis that finished 15-13 in the third set had set her up mentally for the pressure of the semi-finals. “Definitely was very tough. I’m shaking now, I’m really emotional because I could win this match,” Halep said immediately after beating Kerber in another marathon. “I’m glad I could resist. Not easy in the tournament to have these matches, but I have just to enjoy.”

Marin Cilic is also enjoying his run, following up his quarter-final upset against top-ranked Rafael Nadal with a 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over No 49 Kyle Edmund. After reaching the Australian final in his 10th attempt, the 2014 US Open champion will face the winner of Friday’s semi-final match between defending champion Roger Federer and Hyeon Chung.

Halep twisted her left ankle in the first round, and said she’d made the decision then to risk it all at Melbourne Park and take a rest later. Halep has a new resolve after back-to-back first-round exits previously at Melbourne Park. She won a lot of the long, intense rallies against Kerber and hit 50 winners, which surprised even her. She raced to a 5-0 lead in the first set, and led 3-1 in the second, but didn’t wilt as Kerber came back.

“I try to be very calm, but today I was like a roller coaster, up and down,” she said. “But I didn’t give up, not even a ball. I’m really proud of myself, actually.” It wasn’t too different for Kerber, who was the only Grand Slam champion still in the women’s draw after she beat Sharapova in the third round. “I had the two match points, but even I did two chances, she played good, so I couldn’t do anything,” Kerber said. “It was just a battle at the end. It’s just one or two points which decides the match. I gave everything.”

Wozniacki appeared to be coasting, getting breaks in the middle of each set of her semi-final match, but got tight when she was serving for the match at 5-4. From 30-15, she double-faulted twice and Mertens passed her with a forehand winner to level the set at 5-5. The 37th-ranked Mertens, who reached the semi-finals in her Australian Open debut, had two set points before Wozniacki held a service game to force a tiebreaker. 

Wozniacki squandered a match point in an Australian Open semi-final match against Li Na seven years ago, but held her composure this time around and converted her first match point in the tiebreaker.

It was that semi-final loss to Li that has haunted her most among her near-misses. Halep said she’s had the top ranking before, so winning a major has become more important.

 

Semi-finals results

Women’s singles

Simona Halep (ROM x1) bt Angelique Kerber (GER x21) 6-3, 4-6, 9-7

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x2) bt Elise Mertens (BEL) 6-3, 7-6 (7/2)

............

Men’s singles

Marin Cilic (CRO x6) bt Kyle Edmund (GBR) 6-2, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2

Published: 26-01-2018 09:19

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