Serena Williams beats Simona Halep, Aslan Karatsev continues impressive run to reach Aus Open semis


Melbourne: Serena Williams came through a huge test of her Australian Open title credentials to reach the last four at Melbourne Park for the ninth time with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Simona Halep in a high quality quarter-final on Tuesday. The 39-year-old went toe-to-toe with the Romanian second seed over 80 minutes on Rod Laver Arena before she was finally able to move to within two victories of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.

Williams hit some ferocious forehands and moved around the court with a freedom that she has not enjoyed for a good while to set up a semi-final meeting against in-form Japanese third seed Naomi Osaka. “I think this was the best match I have played at this tournament for sure,” Williams said after celebrating her win to the accompaniment of canned applause as Melbourne`s coronavirus lockdown kept the fans away for a fourth day. “I knew it had to be going up against the number two in the world. I had to be better and I was, so I`m excited.”

If any match at this year`s tournament deserved a crowd, it was this. There were nine breaks of serve as two great competitors punched and counter-punched over lengthy rallies.

Williams was always in front in the first set but needed to dig deep to wrestle back the momentum after Halep took a 3-1 lead in the second. Eventually, however, Williams broke for 4-3 after a 13-shot rally where she showed incredible athleticism to get to a couple of shots that would have defied most players. Seven minutes later, she wrapped up the contest with a huge forehand, her 24th winner. 

Williams has not landed one of the game`s major prizes since her seventh title at Melbourne Park in 2017, with Halep`s victory in the 2019 Wimbledon final denying her one opportunity to match Margaret Court`s record.

After gaining a measure of revenge for that defeat, Williams has the chance to avenge another when she plays Osaka, who won the 2018 US Open final between the two.

“She`s a great player on the court and an inspirational person off it,” said Williams. “I feel this is a great opportunity for me just to do my best in the first Grand Slam of the year.” 

Qualifier Karatsev into Melbourne semis at first Grand Slam  

Qualifier Aslan Karatsev continued his stunning run into the Australian Open semi-finals on Tuesday, beating an ailing Grigor Dimitrov 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2 to become the first man in the open era to reach the last four in his maiden Grand Slam. The world number 114 was also only the fifth qualifier to reach the last four of a men`s major in the open era and the lowest-ranked player to reach a Grand Slam semi-final for two decades.

The Russian, whose success at getting into the Australian Open came on his 10th attempt to qualify for a Grand Slam, will meet eight-times champion Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev for a place in the final. 

“It`s an unbelievable feeling, first time main draw, first time semis,” said the 27-year-old, whose victory was marked only by canned applause with fans still banned from Melbourne Parkbecause of a five-day coronavirus lockdown.

Dimitrov, who had not dropped a set on his way to the quarter-finals, said he had suffered a back spasm on Monday and struggled to put his socks on before the match. “It sucks,” the 29-year-old said. “It`s sport, you just never know. That`s why you have to keep on trying to the end. I give respect to the guy, as well. He saw me struggling and he kept on doing what he had to do.”

Karatsev confessed to battling with nerves at the start of the contest on Rod Laver Arena and his error-strewn first set was indeed forgettable. He had battled back from two sets down to beat Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round, however, and soon tightened up his game to storm back into the match in the second stanza.

Dimitrov looked shell-shocked as Karatsev pounded howitzer shots over the net at him — faltering on serve and wandering around the court listlessly in the 30 degree Celsius heat.

The 29-year-old Bulgarian took a medical timeout for treatment on his back after losing the third set but was only able to show flashes of his refined game in the fourth. Karatsev showed no mercy to his hampered opponent and took a comfortable lead over the 18th seed, sealing his place in the last four when Dimitrov flapped a backhand into the net.

With his ATP Cup team mates Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev facing off in a quarter-final on Wednesday, Russia are guaranteed to have two players in the semi-finals and could yet provide both finalists.

“I try not to think about it, I just look at the next match,” said Karatsev when asked about the prospect. 

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