MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - World No. 1 Simona Halep hit form to cruise past Venus Williams Saturday and set up a mouth-watering Australian Open last 16 clash with her sister Serena.
The Romanian top seed defeated Williams 6-2, 6-3 in 1 hour, 17 minutes to post her best performance so far at this year’s tournament after struggling through the early rounds.
“I think I played my best match here this year,” the French Open champion said. “I’m really happy about the way I played, it’s always a big challenge against the Williams sisters.
“I was super motivated today.”
Halep, 27, reached the final at Melbourne Park in 2018 but arrived this year on a five-match losing streak, equaling the worst run of her career.
She was listless in her first two matches, complaining she was not at her best and grinding out three-set wins.
But against Williams, who is unseeded this year, Halep appeared sharp and focused, covering the court with a vigor her 38-year-old opponent could not match.
She expected a sterner test on Monday against Serena, who is chasing a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam at Melbourne Park and has an 8-1 winning record over the Romanian.
“Yeah, not easy. I just have to give my best,” Halep said.
“I have nothing to lose, I play against a great champion. It’s going to be a bigger challenge but I’m ready to face it.”
Serena was relishing the prospect of facing the world’s top-ranked player.
“I honestly would love to face the world number one, it will be great,” she said. “I haven’t played the world number one since I’ve been back (from having a baby), so, yeah, it will be good.”
American 17th seed Madison Keys said she would be taking time out from her Australian Open campaign to watch the current world No. 1 take on arguably the game’s all-time top player.
“The thing is, during their matches they’re always trying different things,” she said.
“You can see they’re both pulling each other out of their comfort zone. That’s when some of their best tennis happens. Some of the things that they come up with are unbelievable.”
Halep broke Venus in the first game then held to love serving in the next.
The Romanian had two break points in the third game but Williams held firm, seeing off the second with an ace.
Persistence paid off when Halep converted her fourth break opportunity, darting forward to crack a backhand beyond Williams’ reach.
It prompted the American to step up her efforts against Halep’s serve and she brought up four break points but could make none of them count as the top seed defended stubbornly.
Another Halep break courtesy of a Williams forehand error put the first set on the Romanian’s racket and she served it out after 39 minutes.
Halep broke again to open the second set but this time Williams managed to respond immediately.
The Romanian regained the advantage late in the set to seal the win.