MELBOURNE: Second seed Simona Halep (pix) said her fighting spirit staved off an early Australian Open exit Wednesday after being pushed to the brink by big-hitting local Alja Tomljanovic.
The two-time Grand Slam winner survived a major scare by winning five third-set games in a row to prevail 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 in two hours and 34 minutes.
Halep, who lost just three games to Australian wildcard Lizette Cabrera in the first round, dug deep to rally from 5-2 down in the third.
“I think I got relaxed a little bit more,” she said of being one game away from elimination.
“I fought till the end. I never gave up during the match, and that’s why maybe I could win in the end.
“I’m really happy and proud of what I did today on court.”
Halep started the match with a break but the feisty, 72nd-ranked Tomljanovic, buoyed by the home support at Margaret Court Arena, hit back and edged ahead.
An angry Halep remonstrated in the direction of her Australian coach Darren Cahill en route to dropping the opening set, but composed herself to hit back and draw level.
The twists continued in the final set with Tomljanovic unable to close it out on serve as Halep mustered five games on the trot to finally prevail in a triumph that could revive her title hopes.
“I felt nervous before the match,” she said.
“I was talking non-stop (during the match), and I was talking negative.
“Darren (Cahill) said that ‘you looked like old Simo’.
“I said: ‘No, I have improved in something – I was fighting till the end’.”
Halep, whose seven-year streak in the top 10 is the longest active run among women, plays 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia in the next round in another test of her resolve.
“I felt like my body and my back was cracking a little bit in the end, but I think I have enough time to recover until the next match,” she said.
Halep, 29, is seeking a maiden triumph at Melbourne Park having fallen short to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 decider and being upset by Garbine Muguruza in last year’s semifinals. – AFP