Tennis: 'Almost dead' Halep joins Thiem in last 16 at Australian Open

Simona Halep sits on the bench after beating Lauren Davis in their women's singles third round match on the sixth day of the Australian Open in Melbourne on Jan 20.
Simona Halep sits on the bench after beating Lauren Davis in their women's singles third round match on the sixth day of the Australian Open in Melbourne on Jan 20.PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE (AFP) - World No. 1 Simona Halep saved three match points to survive a titanic struggle and make the last 16 at the Australian Open Saturday (Jan 20) where she joined Karolina Pliskova and Dominic Thiem.

With the temperatures a manageable 26 deg C at Melbourne Park after two days of oven-like conditions, the Romanian looked out for the count against American Lauren Davis.

But she finally got over the line 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 in a gruelling 3hr 44min on Rod Laver Arena to make the fourth round in a contest that took its toll.

"I'm almost dead," the tenacious Romanian said after the incredible battle, in which Davis lost a toenail and Halep served for the match four times. "The feeling in my muscles is gone and I don't feel my ankle anymore."

Davis is ranked just 76th in the world and was knocked out in the first round of all four Grand Slams last year, but one would never have known it.

Halep, a former quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park who slumped out in the first round last year, will next play Australian Ashleigh Barty or Japan's Naomi Osaka in her quest for a maiden Grand Slam title.

Sixth seed Pliskova also had a tough test, beating fellow Czech Lucie Safarova 7-6 (8-6), 7-5.

In contrast, US Open finalist Madison Keys was in fine touch as she benefits from the guidance of former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport.

Flying under the radar, the 17th seed has surrendered just 16 games on her way to the fourth round after beating Romania's Ana Bogdan 6-3, 6-4.

"Lindsay is amazing. We've had three years together and she has taught me how to handle big moments like this," said Keys, who made the Australian Open semi-finals in 2015.

She will next test herself against French eighth seed Garcia, who was too strong for Belarussian Alaksandra Sasnovich, winning in three sets.

"I haven't done too well against her before and I want to improve," Garcia said of Keys.

Among men going through was Austrian fifth seed Thiem, who beat France's Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-2, 7-5. He now faces unheralded American Tennys Sandgren, who beat German Maxmilian Marterer 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5).