Serena Williams admits she is grateful for every match she wins after powering past world No.2 Simona Halep to book her spot in a ninth Australian Open semi-final.
In their first meeting since Halep’s demolition of Williams in the 2019 Wimbledon final, the American great rediscovered her top-form to exact revenge on the Romanian and triumph 6-3 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.
Remarkably, the 23-time grand slam winner has never lost a semi-final at Melbourne Park and now faces Open favourite and 2019 champion Naomi Osaka.
Tuesday’s match, which lasted 81 minutes, was far closer than the scoreline suggests, with Halep leading 3-1 in the second set.
But the 39-year-old American recovered to take the final five games of the match in a brilliant display of power-hitting, smashing 24 winners to Halep’s nine.
“I definitely think this is the best match I’ve played this tournament,“ Williams said.
“I had to (play that well) going up against the No.2 in the world.
“I knew that I had to do better and that’s what I did. I’m excited.”
Williams will take on Osaka, who ended the fairytale run of Taiwan’s Hsieh Su- Wei with a 6-2 6-2 demolition job in the quarter-finals, for a second time at a major.
OPEN FAIRYTALE ROLLS ON
Punters could have taken any old odds for Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev to be the first man through to the 2021 Australian Open semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
But they’d be collecting, too, after the world No.114 became the first player in 53 years of professional tennis to reach the last four of a major on his grand slam debut.
Karatsev continued his fairytale run with a 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2 quarter-final triumph over a wounded Grigor Dimitrov.
The 27-year-old is also only the fifth qualifier to make a grand slam semi-final, joining the great John McEnroe, Aussie Bob Giltinan, Belgian Filip Dewulf and countryman Vladimir Voltchkov in the history books.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling, of course. The first time playing a main draw, first time playing the semis. It’s incredible,” he said.
Dimitrov, a former Open semi-finalist himself, looked like stopping after losing the third set but valiantly — and forlornly — continued on after receiving treatment for a back injury.
But Bulgaria’s one-time world No.3 could barely move at times and his return to Rod Laver Arena for the last set was merely a stay of execution.
Dimitrov was shattered at the timing of his injury.
“It’s been a while that I’ve been to a quarter-finals, so I really liked my chances,” he said.
“I felt great. I didn’t see any of that coming. It was like one of the first times that I actually felt that well at a slam.
“I haven’t lost a set, moving well, serving well. I felt like finally all the components were kind of coming through without doing any extra effort.
“I actually don’t know what else to say. It sucks. Again, it’s sport. 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. That’s it.”