MELBOURNE: A jubilant Simona Halep exacted revenge on French Open champion Iga Swiatek on Sunday, as she eyes replicating the “best day of my life” in a blockbuster quarterfinal with Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
The world number two was thrashed by the 19-year-old at Roland Garros last year, winning just three games, but turned the tide 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in one hour and 50 minutes at a crowd-less Rod Laver Arena.
Halep was aggressive early, but 15th seed Swiatek showed remarkable defensive skills, thwarting the attacks with sliding retrievals to claim her 21st consecutive set in a Grand Slam.
But Romania’s Halep lifted her intensity and relentlessly hit the lines to force a ragged Swiatek into errors and clinch her 100th Grand Slam victory.
Halep said she had put pressure on herself to respond to her French Open flameout, where as the top seed she was pummelled by Swiatek 6-1, 6-2 in 69 minutes in the fourth round.
“The pressure came from the way I played the last match against her,” said Halep, who hit 19 winners.
“I thought before the match that I have to be a little bit more aggressive than in Paris.
“I just expected from myself a better game, which I did, and I’m really happy about that.”
Halep now faces 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams, who she memorably beat 6-2, 6-2 in the 2019 Wimbledon final.
“I think it was the best day of my life,” said Halep, who thwarted Williams’s bid to equal Margaret Court’s record Slam tally.
“I felt very confident back then. I felt every ball. I felt all of my game.”
Halep conceded she would have to almost replicate that near-flawless performance to once again halt Williams’s march towards history.
“I need my best tennis to win against her,” said Halep, who has won only two out of 11 matches against her rival.
“I don’t expect two matches in a row the same way, so I’m ready for a long match. I’m used to playing Serena. I know what to expect.”
Halep, 29, is seeking a maiden triumph at Melbourne Park after falling short to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 decider, and losing in straight sets to Garbine Muguruza in last year’s semifinals. – AFP