Australian Open 2019

The No.1 versus the best

Serena Williams consoling Dayana Yastremska after beating the Ukrainian 6-2, 6-1 in the third round yesterday. Williams will meet world No. 1 Simona Halep for the ninth time tomorrow.
Serena Williams consoling Dayana Yastremska after beating the Ukrainian 6-2, 6-1 in the third round yesterday. Williams will meet world No. 1 Simona Halep for the ninth time tomorrow.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Super-motivated Halep sets up showdown with Williams by ousting her sister Venus

MELBOURNE • A fourth-round collision tomorrow that will rip the Australian Open wide apart brings world No. 1 Simona Halep and Serena Williams, arguably the best player in the history of women's tennis, together for the ninth time.

The American has an 8-2 grip on that rivalry, but the Romanian comes into the match after beating her sister, Venus, 6-2, 6-3 in convincing fashion yesterday.

The 27-year-old Halep, lifted after breaking through at Roland Garros last summer following years of near-misses in the Majors, had dropped a tie-break set in both her previous rounds.

But she found the right gears against Venus, who admitted her opponent "played pretty flawless tennis today". She added: "Only 12 errors. Unfortunately, I had almost three times as many."

The French Open champion agreed she had played her "best match here this year" as she had been "super motivated today".

Perhaps the reason for her intensity was down to an eagerness to set up a match worthy of a Melbourne Park final.

Looking ahead to the clash with the 23-time Grand Slam winner, who is looking to equal the all-time record of Margaret Court, Halep felt she had "nothing to lose".

Halep, who conceded she was an underdog against Serena despite topping the world rankings since October 2017, said: "I (am) playing against a great champion.

"I beat her only once in my life, so I cannot say much about this match. It's going to (be) a bigger challenge but I'm ready to face it.

"It's always great to play against Serena because every time I have to learn something from the match. Definitely, it's the toughest draw I've had.

"In my opinion, to be No. 1 in the world and to be the best player in the world, it's a little bit different.

"In this moment, I'm No. 1 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. She's been a lot on No. 1. I cannot compare my results to her.

"But in this moment, I'm confident that I'm in this position, and I'm positive about it."

Also on their side of the draw is Serena's conqueror in the US Open final, Naomi Osaka, who had to come from a set and 2-4 down to get past the quirky genius of Chinese Taipei's Hsieh Su-wei 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.

The world No. 4 struggled against her 27th-ranked opponent's unorthodox strokeplay, comprising a dizzying mix of drop shots and slices, which left the Japanese "never (being able to) really tell where she's going to put the ball".

Osaka told reporters: "I walked into the match knowing that she was going to do a lot of strange things. It's very, very hard to have a rally with her."

Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova will be Osaka's next opponent while the 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys is also through after upsetting Belgian Elise Mertens 6-3, 6-2.

The American takes on Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, who prevailed 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 over unseeded Zhang Shuai of China in two hours and 55 minutes, the longest match in the women's championship so far.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 20, 2019, with the headline 'The No.1 versus the best'. Print Edition | Subscribe