MELBOURNE, February 16: Serena Williams came through a huge test of her Australian Open title credentials to beat Simona Halep 6-3 6-3 in a high quality quarter-final and reach the last four at Melbourne Park for the ninth time on Tuesday.
The 39-year-old American went toe-to-toe with the Romanian second seed over 80 engrossing minutes on Rod Laver Arena before she was finally able to move to within two victories of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.
Williams, who mixed 24 winners with 33 unforced errors over the contest, has not won a major since her seventh Australian Open triumph in 2017 and next faces in-form Japanese third seed Naomi Osaka with a place in the final on the line.
For Halep, who reached the semi-finals last year and was losing finalist in 2018, it was back to the drawing board as she looks to add to her two Grand Slam titles at the French Open and Wimbledon.
World number three Naomi Osaka stormed past Hsieh Su-wei in straight sets Tuesday to book an Australian Open semi-final against either Serena Williams or Simona Halep.
The Japanese three-time Grand Slam champion overcame the Taiwanese world number 71’s unorthodox style 6-2, 6-2 in an all-Asian quarter-final at a crowd-less Rod Laver Arena.
“I was pretty calm. I’m really happy how I played today,” said Osaka, who hit 24 winners in a dominant display lasting just 66 minutes against her 35-year-old opponent.
Osaka, 23, will play either 23-time Grand Slam winner Williams or world number two Halep for a place in Saturday’s final.
“I normally never look at my draw but everyone’s told me about it here,” said the three-time Grand Slam champion.
Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev became the first man in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam semi-final on debut Tuesday, overcoming an injured Grigor Dimitrov in four sets at the Australian Open.
The 27-year-old’s dream run continued with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win against the Bulgarian on Rod Laver Arena to set up a last-four clash with top seed Novak Djokovic or sixth seed Alexander Zverev.
But it was achieved against a player grimacing with pain from late in the third set.
Dimitrov called for a medical timeout and was heard on the court microphone saying he had “spasms”, with a trainer given him treatment to his lower back.
The 18th seed gamely returned but his movement was hampered as she struggled to serve and chase down returns.
“Unbelievable feeling, first time in semis. Incredible,” said Karatsev.
“It was tough at the beginning for me to hold my nerves, but I tried to find a way to play.”
In making the last four, he became just the second qualifier to do so at the Australian Open after Bob Giltinan in 1977.
He was also the lowest-ranked man, at 114, to make the semis at a Slam since Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001 when ranked 125.
A virtual unknown before the tournament started, Karatsev has spent the bulk of his professional career fighting for points on the ATP Challenger Tour.
Reigning champion Novak Djokovic overcame some dips in form to beat Alexander Zverev 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(6) and book his place in the Australian Open semi-finals on Tuesday.
The Serbian world number one hit back strongly after losing a tight opening set on a tiebreak but trailed in both the third and fourth sets before turning them around.
Germany’s Zverev will rue allowing Djokovic back from 4-1 down in the third set and he was also up 3-0 in the fourth.
Djokovic again wore tape on his abdominal area, a legacy of the injury picked up in his third-round win over Taylor Fritz. But it did not appear to bother him as he reached his 39th Grand Slam semi-final, where he will face an unlikely opponent in Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev.
The 23-year-old Zverev began in confident fashion and secured the first break of the match but failed to convert a set point on Djokovic’s serve when leading 5-3.
He wavered on his own serve at 5-4 though, and Djokovic took the set into a tiebreak, only for some uncharacteristic errors to allow Zverev to sneak a 59-minute set.
Djokovic needed only 29 minutes to win the second set but his level dropped at the start of the third, and he destroyed a racket in anger as he slipped 4-1 behind.
Zverev was 0-30 ahead on Djokovic’s serve in the next game but Djokovic found another gear, winning 20 of the next 24 points to move one set from victory.
Another momentum shift saw Zverev take a 3-0 lead in the fourth set and have three points to move 4-0 ahead, but Djokovic dug in to haul himself back into contention.
Zverev threatened to take the match into a decider but Djokovic saved a set point at 5-6 with an ace and a powerful first serve brought up match point in the day’s second tiebreak.
Djokovic netted a backhand but forced a volley error from Zverev to earn another chance, this time on his own serve, and he wrapped up the match with his 23rd ace.