Simona Halep came back from a 2-5 final-set deficit to claim a 4-6 6-4 7-5 triumph over Ajla Tomljanovic on Wednesday night, a victory that sends the second seed into the third round of Australian Open 2021.

The Romanian appeared in danger of joining the slew of toppled top-ranked players on Day 3, but steely resolve propelled her through the final games as she stared down defeat.

The enthralling battle ebbed and flowed for two hours and 34 minutes and featured 15 breaks of serve, Halep prevailing despite delivering 28 winners, nine fewer than her opponent’s 37.

“I expected that she’s going to play very hard and very strong. I know that she’s a very tough opponent and I expected it to be a difficult match, but it was more than I thought,” said Halep, who stretched her head-to-head advantage over Tomljanovic to 4-0 with the win.

“I was not that positive when I was talking to myself,” admitted Halep. “Mentally, I think I was a little bit stronger and I wanted to, I had the desire to win the match and I didn’t want to give up.”

In a match that began in daylight and ended under the bright lights of Margaret Court Arena, Tomljanovic was eyeing her first top-10 win since 2019 and fourth of her career. She served up a pair of double faults to concede a break in the opening game, but cheered on by her beau and men’s ninth seed Matteo Berrettini, quickly matched her opponent’s barrage of powerful groundstrokes, breaking back to level the score at 2-2.

The free-hitting Brisbane resident broke the Romanian again to edge ahead to a 4-2 lead, before dropping her own serve. Mixing in deftly-placed drop shot winners with unreturnable serves, Tomljanovic saved break point to take a 5-4 lead and captured the set after by breaking Halep in a gruelling game that lasted almost 13 minutes. The opening set itself lasted 58 minutes, roughly the length of the world No. 2’s first-round dismissal of Australian Lizette Cabrera.

With both players attacking on the return, four breaks of serve ensued to begin the second set. The rivals held once each before Halep clinched and then consolidated a break to take a 5-3 lead. The protege of Australian coach Darren Cahill then held focus to snag the set 6-4 with a clean forehand winner, forcing a decider, with pressure-filled rallies evoking gasps of disbelief.

Tomljanovic started the third up 2-0 before handing back the break with an untimely double fault. She was broken serving for the match at 5-3 and, after surviving three break points, succumbed to a fourth in the eleventh game, to give Halep a 6-5 lead. The two-time Grand Slam champion didn’t need to be asked twice to seize the moment, and clinched her second match point with a passing forehand winner.

Halep, a finalist in Melbourne in 2018, next battles Russian 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova in a career-first meeting.

“It’s going to be a new challenge, I will watch a little bit of video like I do every time I face someone I didn’t play before,” Halep said.

But first? Recuperation. “I want just to recover after this match, if I can be 100 per cent in two days, that will be great,” she said, smiling.

Source: Gillian Tan