Simona Versus Serena In Aussie Showcase

Simona Halep (photo: Vince Caligiuri/Tennis Australia)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, February 15, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

As the Australian Open women’s quarterfinals begin Tuesday at Melbourne Park, one of the showcases of the Aussie fortnight will be a prime-time showdown between World No. 2 Simona Halep of Romania and 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams of the United States. Halep has been a fixture on the night sessions while Williams has starred during the day.

Americans who want to watch the Halep-Williams quarterfinal will have to get up early Tuesday (3 a.m. Eastern Time) to tune in to the ESPN broadcast. It begins at 7 p.m. AEDT in Melbourne.

After Williams reached the quarterfinals with her 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory over World No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka on Sunday, the 10th seed was asked about the prospect of facing Halep, who beat her soundly in the 2019 Wimbledon final:

“At this point I’m ready … it’s [the] quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. I’ve been here more times than I could even count. That’s the right attitude for me to have. I’ll be ready.”

When she was asked what inspires her at this stage of her tennis journey, Williams said: “I like my job. I like what I do. It’s pretty special. I get to come out and still get to do it. I don’t think I need any other inspiration behind that.”

Meanwhile, after Halep reached the quarterfinals with her 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over 15th-seeded Iga Swiatek, she was asked if she would feel any way different playing against someone who has captured 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

“Of course, it’s different,” Halep said. “She’s the only one with 23 Grand Slams, so you cannot compare Serena with all of us, because we do not have so many Grand Slams.

“But when I step on the court, it’s just another opponent, and always I’m focused on myself more than I focus against who I play. And I’m trying to give my best to try everything I can to win that match.”

Asked if it’s easier or harder when she’s playing Serena to focus only on herself, Halep replied, “No, it’s not that hard, because I’m used to play[ing] Serena. We played so many times. I know what to expect.

“I will just try to do my game, and I will be confident.”

Williams leads the career head-to-head 9-2 and the series goes all the back to 2011 at Wimbledon. However, most tennis pundits agree that the two most recent matches are the ones worth paying attention two.

First, Williams beat Halep in a fourth-round match at the 2019 Australian Open, 6-11, 4-6, 6-4. Then, later in the year, Halep prevailed 6-2, 6-2 in the Wimbledon title match.

In a recent interview, the subject of Halep’s most recent Grand Slam title – Wimbledon 2019 – came up. Halep said: “I think it was one of the best [days] in my life. The bet day actually of my life. I felt very confident back then. I felt every ball. I felt all the game. But I’m not different mentally from that day. I just think that two matches in a row cannot be the same. So, I ‘m just getting ready to face her here.”

Tuesday’s order of play

A message from Iga Swiatek

Throughout the Australian Open fortnight, World No. 17 Iga Swiatek has taken to social media quite often to share her thoughts following her matches. Here’s what she wrote following her round of 16 loss to World No. 2 Simona Halep.

Swiatek remains alive in the mixed doubles draw with fellow Polish player Lukas Kubot.

Chasing the trophy

Great Britain’s Alfie Hewitt pulled off one of the great upsets in the men’s wheelchair semifinals on Monday. The British second seed hit 31 winners and beat the 10-time Australian Open champion Shinto Kunieda of Japan, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the final.

“I don’t really know too much about the match itself,” Hewitt said. “Like I was so in the zone at the time that all I was doing was trying to be aggressive and have a high intensity in the match and try and take it to him.”

In the final, Hewitt will oppose Belgium’s Joachim Gerard, who outlasted Gordon Reid of Great Britain, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the other semifinal.

By the numbers

• World No. 3 Naomi Osaka enters the Australian Open quarterfinals with 31 service aces, tops among the women at Melbourne Park. She’s 3-0 in major quarterfinals and has won her past 13 Grand Slam three-set matches.

• World No. 71 Hsieh Su-Wei is the lowest ranked among the quarterfinal women. She’s also the first from Taiwan to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. At age 35, she’s the oldest player to debut in a Grand Slam quarterfinal in the Open Era (since 1968).

• At age 39, Serena Williams is into her 54 major quarterfinals. She’s 39-14 (8-4 at the Australian Open). Against Top 3 competition in Grand Slams, she’s on an 11-match winning streak.

• The last time Simona Halep faced Serena Williams, it was the 2019 Wimbledon final, won by the Romanian. She’s 2-9 lifetime against the American superstar. Halep’s round of 16 win Sunday against Iga Swiatek was her 100th at a Grand Slam.

What they’re saying

After his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 fourth-round victory over Fabio Fognini on Monday, World No. 2 Rafael Nadal suggested in his press conference that the first set was the best level he’s played in this year’s Australian Open. When he was asked how he feels now that he’s into the second week of the first major and in pursuit of a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam singles title, he said:

“I think I had an amazing preparation for the tournament. I practiced very well in Mallorca and the first week in Adelaide had been fantastic. Then, what happened with the back, of course, that stopped me a lot. But I was able to win the four matches already here, so now I’m going to have a very tough opponent (Stefanos Tsitsipas) in front.

“I need to play my best. Let’s see if I am able to do it. I really hope that the match of today helps and the practices tomorrow will help, too, and yeah, I’m excited about playing that quarterfinals match. If we compare how I was five days ago and how I am today’s situation, it’s different, and my perspective and excitement is completely different, too.”

What they’re podcasting

What they’re sharing on social media

Barbora Krejcikova / Give me five!

Garbiñe Muguruza / Thanks 🇦🇺 for having us

Andrey Rublev / Quarterfinal of @AustralianOpen