MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Push Simona Halep to the brink, and she summons her best.
The Australian Open’s top-seeded woman got all she could handle from 20-year-old American Sofia Kenin in the second round before taking the last four games to emerge with a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 victory that took two-and-a-half hours yesterday.
“Well, I have no idea how I won this match,” said Halep, the reigning French Open champion. “It’s so tough to explain what happened on court.”
A year ago at Melbourne Park, Halep was a point from being eliminated in two matches but came back each time en route to reaching the final. In the first round this year, she was down a set and a break before turning things around. And this time, against a hard-hitting Kenin, Halep trailed 4-2 in the third set and managed to not cede another game.
And that was despite getting what she described as “a little bit injured” in the second set, something that seemed clear from the way she wasn’t always able to run with her usual verve.
“Hopefully,” said Halep, whose number one ranking is up for grabs during the Australian Open, “next round I play better”.
That third-round matchup will be quite intriguing, because it’ll be against seven-time Grand Slam champion and former number one Venus Williams. And the winner of that could face Williams’ younger sister, 23-time major champ Serena, in the fourth round.
Venus won a three-setter that finished a little before Halep’s did – and in much more emphatic fashion. Pushed to that deciding set by getting broken to end the second, Venus ran away with the win down the stretch, defeating Alize Cornet 6-3, 4-6, 6-0.
So what was the difference in the lopsided third set?
“She was just putting more intensity than me. She was hitting harder, deeper,” Cornet said. “I had a little less energy than in the second set and she took advantage of it and really raised her level.”