“I’m not scared of the power that is in tennis right now.”
Simona Halep is speaking as if she could take on any challenge. Fearless and in fine form.
The world No.2 booked her Australian Open quarterfinal ticket on Sunday, setting up a box-office bout with 24 major-chasing Serena Williams.
“I watched a little bit of Serena with Aryna Sabalenka today, and there was huge power… but I have experience,” maintained the Romanian.
“I played many times with these players, and I beat most of them. So I’m confident with my way of playing, and doesn’t matter that much the power of the game for me.”
Seven-time champion Serena breezed through her opening three matches, prior to the explosive 6-4 2-6 6-4 tug of war with Sabalenka.
Meanwhile Halep, finalist at AO 2018, has also encountered some stern resistance. She was forced to overhaul a set and break deficit to Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round, before gaining revenge for a heavy defeat at Roland Garros to eventual champion Iga Swiatek.
“One of the great things about ‘Simo’ is she’s actually a real student of the game,” stated joint coach Darren Cahill after the 3-6 6-1 6-4 passage past Swiatek. “
“She thought about that match from the French Open, thought about what let her down, what she could do better, and went out there tonight and try to execute a better game plan.”
Two archetypal comebacks for Halep, with “legend, the best” Serena Williams next on the agenda.
“She’s the only one with 23 Grand Slams, so you cannot compare Serena with all of us, because we do not have so many Grand Slams,” added the 29-year-old, adamant she’s not daunted by the challenge.
“But when I step on the court, it’s just another opponent, and always I’m focused on myself more than I focus against who I play. And I’m trying to give my best to try everything I can to win that match.”
Williams, injury-free and finding clutch play at crucial times, owns a 9-2 record facing Halep.
“She’s playing as well as I’ve seen her play for a long time. She’s moving as well as I’ve seen her move and defend in the last four or five years,” analysed coach Cahill, assessing her charge’s challenge against one of the greatest of all time.
“She’s Serena Williams. It’s all-encompassing when you play somebody like her, and it’s why such a great challenge, because she got a chance couple years ago to play her in a Wimbledon final. That was massive for Simona to get over that hurdle. So she’ll go into this match with belief, but the execution is something that depends on the day.”
That Wimbledon final Cahill mentions, back on the luscious lawns at SW19 in 2019, Halep produced a near-perfect display to win 6-2 6-2 on “the best day actually of my life.”
However, the second seed isn’t expecting a similar, one-sided outcome.
“I felt very confident back then. I felt every ball. I felt all the game. But I’m not different mentally from that day. I just think that two matches in a row cannot be the same,” continued Halep, having now posted 100 Grand Slam victories.
“I need my best tennis to win against her. I’m ready for a long match. Also, I’m ready for everything, to face everything, but I know what to expect.”
Serena is only three steps away from the elusive major No.24 and must be targeting revenge from the thumping at Wimbledon two years ago.
The 39-year-old kept her preview succinct.
“It’s quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. I’ve been here more times than I could even count. That’s the right attitude for me to have. I’ll be ready.”
Source: Alex Sharp