World No. 1 Simona Halep and former No. 1 Angie Kerber set up a blockbuster Australian Open semifinal when both players moved through their quarterfinal matches on Wednesday in Melbourne.
Halep had little trouble — in the end — with another former No. 1, dismissing No. 6 seed Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-2, while the No. 21-seeded Kerber brushed past No. 17 Madison Keys 6-1, 6-2.
While Halep lost only five games total, in the first set she found herself serving at 0-3, 30-40. After three double faults in the game she eventually held serve, with the help of Pliskova’s forehand which totally went off the boil. The Pliskova forehand wing was anything but deadly, sputtering to a total of 16 unforced errors during the match, and six alone in that pivotal fourth game of the first set.
Down 0-3, 30-40, Halep reeled off nine games in a row and took control.
“I started slow a little bit. Then I got used to the rhythm. I got used to everything,” Halep said afterwards. “You never know with her because she has crazy good shots sometimes and also the serve. But I read her serve many times today. I just was very strong on the return. I think that’s why I could start to dominate the game. She was a little bit upset because she couldn’t take the serve.”
Pliskova had three aces and only one more winner than Halep during the match.
“My serve is not that effective on her,” said the Czech who fell to 1-6 against Halep. “She returns pretty well. She’s strong on the backhand side. I don’t think I did something that wrong. Maybe just the big points I play bad against her, then it’s change quickly. I think all the matches were pretty similar. Even though we went three sets [in other matches], I just have the feeling it’s similar. Even in practice, I feel she just likes my game.”
Kerber also likes the game of Keys, allowing the in-form American only three games in 51 minutes.
“I have a lot of confidence and belief in my game already, because I start the year good, played good in Perth, and I won Sydney,” Kerber said. “That gives me a lot of confidence to coming here. Also, all the memories, of course, I will never forget the memories I had 2016 here, so that’s why I feel so good.”
Feeling not-so-good was Keys, who committed 25 unforced errors to Kerber’s seven.
“She definitely played…more aggressive than any other time I have played against her,” the American said. “She was hitting winners, I really didn’t have an answer for anything today.”
Keys fell to 1-6 career against Kerber.
“I think how I played all of the other matches definitely shows that, and I’m not going to walk away from this tournament and think it was terrible because I had one bad match,” the 22-year-old US Open runner-up Keys said. “I definitely think I have taken a lot of steps in the right direction and feel good about my game and feel like I’m thinking a lot clearer out there. I think it’s just going to take a little bit of time.”
Halep and Kerber have split their eight career meetings, but Kerber has won the two most recent, in 2016 at Cincinnati and the WTA Finals, both in straight sets.
In the race for No. 1, Caroline Wozniacki can still take the top spot by reaching the final if Halep loses in the semis, or beating Halep in the final. The semifinal effort by Kerber will see the German return to the Top 10 on the next WTA rankings.
Thursday in Melbourne will see the women’s semifinals featuring (1) Halep vs. (21) Kerber, and (2) Wozniacki vs. unseeded Belgian Elise Mertens.
Pliskova after her loss went out on a limb to pick a winner.
“Every match is different story — I don’t think [Halep is] going to win it,” said Pliskova. “I think Kerber is better now.”
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