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WTA Number 1 • Simona Halep Grinds Out Grueling Win, Saving Match Points To Overcome Lauren Davis

Simona Halep of Romania reacts during round three against Lauren Davis of the USA on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 20 January 2018. EPA-EFE/TRACEY NEARMY



By: Thomas Cluck


Under the unbearably strong heat of the Melbourne sun in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena, world number one Simona Halep’s quest for a maiden Grand Slam title marched on, but not without some strength and heart along the way. Top seed Halep had to muster up everything she could, battling past diminutive American Lauren Davis 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 in an excruciating three hour and 47 minute battle royale.


Halep’s hard-fought win tied the Australian Open record for most games played in a women’s match as the Romanian moved into the second week of a Slam for the third time in her last four majors.


“Well, definitely it was a very tough match. It’s the only one match that I played like this.You know, I was down also Love-40. She had three match balls. It was not easy, but I just kept playing. I just kept believing that it’s not over, even if she’s leading a little bit more,” said an exhausted Halep.


“I gave everything I had today, and actually, I’m really proud that I could stay there and win it. It was not easy at all. She played great.”


It was certainly not an easy match for Halep, far from it, as the Romanian saved three match points and countless breakpoints in a grueling two hour and 23 minute third set. The opening set saw immediate trouble for the top seed as she could not maintain a break lead, with Davis breaking back immediately before a poor service game from Halep gifted her the first set 6-4.


The second set was a similar battle as very little could separate the two, with a crucial break in the third game for the world number one proving pivotal as Halep rode that advantage to take a tight second set on her first time of asking.


Lauren Davis of the USA in action during her third round match against Simona Halep of Romania at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 20 January 2018. EPA-EFE/MAST IRHAM

The Romanian raced out to a quick 3-1 lead in the decisive third set but a lengthy game on serve saw her give up the break in the sixth game as Davis took her fifth break point to level at 3-all. As the drama began to mount, Halep secured a huge break in the ninth game to put her up 5-4 and give herself a chance to serve out the match, but that opportunity was short lived as the American broke straight back before the pair exchanged breaks to get to 6-all.


Things remained dead even as both held for 7-all and after another crucial break for Halep to look to serve out the match, the five-foot-two Davis continued to show her fighting spirit, displaying no signs of nerves as she broke Halep again to get to 8-all.


As both players continued to defend their serves quite well at 11-10, the unseeded American raced out to a 0-40 lead on the Halep serve, bringing up three match points. As each match point came and went, the top seed remained composed and aggressive, showing a resilience she has often lacked, saving each match point as she held on for 11-all whilst physical problems began to set in for Davis.


“Honestly, I thought it’s over at that moment, but was good because I relax my arm and I serve pretty well those three balls. And then she took the medical. I had time to calm down. I had come to believe again, to restart the mind,” commented Halep on how she approached the three match points she faced.


“And also I found more energy after that three minutes’ break. But at 13-All when I took the game, I said it’s my lucky number. So it’s going to be two in a row now,” said a jubilant world number one.


The American saved an onslaught of break points on her serve the following game, but Davis’ attacking tennis continued to pay dividends as she held on for 12-all. Eventually something was going to break however and in the 27th game it finally did as Halep’s continued relentlessness off the ground saw her break for 14-13 and bring up a third chance to serve out the marathon match.


Finally it was third time lucky for the top seed as Halep wore down Davis once and for all, closing out the grueling battle on her first match point to book her spot in the second week in Melbourne after a 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 epic.


Now Halep will hope to channel the same fate as Li Na and Angelique Kerber did on the way to their Australian Open crowns, going on to win the title after saving match points in the first week.


While it will take another Herculean effort from the battle-tested top seed just to make it to the last eight after the longest match of the women’s tournament on top of an uncertain ankle injury, if there’s anyone that can do it, it’s Halep. If she can carry that resiliency through her next round like she did today, there’s no stopping the Romanian on her quest to finally get that elusive maiden major crown.


Follow Thomas on Twitter @thomas_cluck917.

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