MELBOURNE: World number one Simona Halep set up a headline last 16 showdown with Serena Williams by beating her sister Venus yesterday in the Australian Open.
On day six at Melbourne Park, the Romanian finally hit form to pull off her best win of the year and cruise past the veteran American 6-2, 6-3.
“I was super-motivated today,” she said after being taken to three sets in both her opening two matches as she bounces back from a herniated disc that ended her 2018 season early.
“I have nothing to lose,” she added, looking ahead to tomorrow’s clash against 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena. “I playing against a great champion. Its’s going to a bigger challenge but I’m ready to face it.”
French Open champion Halep has topped the rankings since October, 2017.
“In my opinion, to be number one in the world and to be the best player in the world, it’s a little bit different,” Halep told reporters yesterday.
“In this moment, I’m number one in the world, so I will take that. I feel like I have been there many months, many weeks.
“But for sure she’s the best player in the world because she won so many Grand Slams.”
Serena crushed Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska 6-2, 6-1 before consoling her at the net as the teenager burst into tears.
The ominous 37-year-old, seeded 16, has dropped just nine games in her three matches so far on her first return to the tournament since winning it in 2017 while pregnant.
“I just play each match at a time, play as hard as I can and do the best I can. That really is all you can do,” she said as she zeroes in on an eighth Australian title and a record-equalling 24th Slam crown.
Fourth seed Naomi Osaka looked down and out against Taiwanese veteran Hsieh Su-wei before battling back to win 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 and set up meeting with Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.
Osaka’s win equals the 21-year-old’s best performance at the Australian Open, where she reached the last 16 in 2018 but lost to Halep.
But she looked headed for the exit when she conceded the first set and was down 4-1 in the second, before winning five straight games to force a decider.
“I just didn’t want to give up,” said the Japanese, who received a code violation after throwing her racquet.
Sixth seed Elina Svitolina struggled with a painful shoulder complaint that required treatment at every changeover, and medical timeouts, before she somehow beat China’s Zhang Shuai 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 as the temperature rose in the centre court sunshine.
“I just told myself ‘you’re going to die or win’,” said Svitolina, who scored her biggest career win by clinching the WTA Finals in Singapore last October.
She will next meet 17th-seeded American Madison Keys, while seventh seed and former world number one Karolina Pliskova will face two-time Slam winner Garbine Muguruza.
Muguruza said she narrowly avoided turning into a zombie before reaching the last 16 yesterday after playing her previous match in the middle of the night.
The two-time Grand Slam winner, seeded 18, defeated Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 to make the fourth round at Melbourne Park.
The 25-year-old’s previous match against Briton Johanna Konta set a record for the latest start in the tournament’s history after it began in the early hours of Friday morning.