World number one Simona Halep expects a “marathon” in her Australian Open semi-final against Angelique Kerber after blitzing sixth seed Karolina Pliskova in their Australian Open quarter-final on Wednesday.
The Romanian overcame a shaky start to reel off nine games in a row and 12 of the last 14 games to recover from 0-3 en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory on Rod Laver Arena.
The match was over in 71 minutes – a stark contrast to her third-round victory over Lauren Davis of the US.
That lasted 3hr 44min with Halep winning 15-13 in the final set after saving three match points.
“For sure is going to be a second marathon this tournament,” said Halep looking ahead to the semi.
She has played the German 2016 Australian Open champion eight times with the series level at 4-4.
“But I’m used to that. I know her pretty well. She likes it here. But I started to like this tournament, after two years in a row losing in the first round,” added Halep, who is in the last four at Melbourne Park for the first time.
The Romanian had taken three sets to beat Pliskova in their previous meeting, a semi-final at Roland Garros last year, and started shakily, struggling to time her serve or groundstrokes.
But once she saved a break point at 0-3 to get on the scoreboard, her confidence grew against an opponent who has never gone beyond the last eight in Melbourne.
“For sure it wasn’t my best start but I knew I had to restart after three games to stop missing and move better,” said Halep, whose relentless chasing and powerful groundstrokes overwhelmed her taller, tattooed opponent.
“I started to open the court and play my style, and I served well today. Everything went pretty much my way.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 24, 2018
She added that she was more confident about the injured ankle she has nursed throughout the tournament.
“I was just worried about how is going to be the next day, the ankle,” she said. “But was pretty strong. After this I will take care better of it.”
Pliskova was the top-rated server on the WTA Tour in 2017 but it took her until the sixth game of the second set to record her first ace.
“My serve is not that effective on her,” said the world number six, who has never got past the quarter-final stage in a Grand Slam.
“She returns pretty well. She’s strong on the backhand side. I try to play fast, but I think she likes this. She just use my speed. Then in the end, I’m the one who is running.”
Newly-minted star Tennys Sandgren lashed out at the “dehumanising” media Wednesday after wiping his Twitter account following a backlash over his political views and links to right-wing activists.
The unheralded American, a devout Christian, came from nowhere to make the Australian Open quarter-finals, where he crashed out to South Korea’s Chung Hyeon in three sets.
His deep run at the tournament sparked scrutiny of his life, including his political stance and his seeming support of the alt-right movement in the United States.
Among his tweets was one where Sandgren appeared to back a debunked online conspiracy in 2016 which linked Hillary Clinton to a supposed child sex abuse ring at a Washington pizzeria.
He also retweeted a video from white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes.
After facing an online backlash, he decided to wipe the slate clean, deleting years of social media postings.
After his match with Chung, he read a pre-prepared, sermon-like, statement at his post-match press conference that left a stunned silence.
“You would rather perpetuate propaganda machines instead of researching information from a host of angles and perspectives while being willing to learn, change, and grow,” he said.
“You dehumanise with pen and paper and turn neighbour against neighbour.
“In so doing, you may actually find you’re hastening the hell you wish to avoid, the hell we all wish to avoid.”
He added that he treated everyone as equals and accused the media of “stripping away any individuality for the sake of demonising by way of the collective”.
“It’s my job to continue on this journey with the goal of becoming the best I can and to embody the love Christ has for me, for I answer to Him and Him alone,” he added.
Sandgren, from Gallatin in Tennessee, refused to take any questions on the subject but in an interview with broadcaster ESPN said that “some things are being said about me that are untrue and not particularly fair”.
In a bid to douse the fire, he deleted all his tweets.
“It’s not something I’m really embarrassed about, but I just felt like creating a cleaner start is not a bad call. I thought it wouldn’t be a bad way to move forward,” he said.
Sandgren’s had earlier denied that he supported far-right figures and said who he followed on Twitter “doesn’t matter”.
“I don’t. I don’t (support them). I find some of the content interesting,” he said of the controversial figures.
“But no, I don’t, not at all. As a firm Christian, I don’t support things like that, no. I support Christ and following him.”
Sandgren, from Gallatin in Tennessee, is only the second man in the last 20 years to make the Australian Open quarter-finals on his debut.
Amazingly, the 26-year-old missed out on qualifying in the last four years to reach the main draw in Melbourne.
Despite falling to Chung, he conquered former winner Stan Wawrinka and fifth seed Dominic Thiem along the way to announce himself as a player to watch.
In the wake of the controversy and his tennis exploits, he said he planned to go home and “turn off my phone”.
“This has been a lot of information to digest in the last few weeks. So I need to take ample time to do so, so I can move forward correctly,” he said.
Angelique Kerber ominously says she is getting her 2016 Grand Slam winning feeling back, signalling her intent to reclaim the Australian Open with a quarter-final demolition of Madison Keys Wednesday.
The champion at Melbourne two years, seeded 21, ruthlessly brushed aside last year’s US Open finalist 6-1, 6-2 — breaking her much-vaunted serve at will in 51 one-sided minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
Kerber will go back into the world’s top-10 after reaching the semi-finals and is on a 14-match winning streak in Australia after an unbeaten singles campaign in the Hopman Cup and her triumph in the Sydney warm-up.
“I know that I was working hard in the off-season, and I know that I can play good matches. I’m just trying to find the feeling back I had like 2016,” said Kerber of the year in which she also won the US Open.
“I love to play here, there’s so many great memories… I’m just happy to get through and make the semis again here.”⁰⁰
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 24, 2018
Kerber said she was enjoying life and tennis again after a torrid 2017 that she began on top of the rankings and ended outside the top 20.
“I just try to enjoy myself again on court. You know, I had a tough last year,” said the German. “I’m proud how I got through all the last weeks and being in the semis again in a Grand Slam. So I’m feeling good.”
For Keys, the 17th seed who hadn’t dropped a set to reach the quarter-finals, it’s back to the drawing board after another big-match choke — she capitulated 6-3, 6-0 to Sloane Stephens in the final at Flushing Meadows last year.
She said she would sit down with her coach, the 2000 Australian Open winner Lindsay Davenport to try and figure out a way forward.
“I think she has helped me in a lot of big moments and a lot of big matches,” said Keys, who reached the semi-finals at Melbourne in 2015.
“She knows what to say in those moments to calm me down or get me going. I think I have handled a lot of the bigger situations better, and I just need to keep working on that.
“I’m not going to walk away from this tournament and think it was terrible because I had one bad match. I think it’s just going to take a little bit of time.”
The match was billed as a classic contrast of styles, the big-serving power game of Keys versus the scurrying, chase-everything-down, all-action approach of Kerber.
For Keys so much depends on the serve, which let her down badly on this occasion as Kerber won 57 percent of points on the American’s first serve.
Keys was broken four times in five error-riddled service games as the German raced to the first set 6-1 in 22 minutes and went 3-1 up in the second.
Keys momentarily held back the tide with a break to love to get back to 3-2.
But the German juggernaut rolled on with a break back and a dominant hold, sealed with a tremendous overhead from near the baseline.
For Keys the final indignity came as, serving to stay in the tournament, she opened with back-to-back double faults.
Moments later her ordeal was over and Kerber was back in the semi-finals where she will face top seed Simona Halep, who delivered a 6-3, 6-2 drubbing of Karolina Pliskova.
While Kerber can often be perceived as a counter-puncher, Keys noted the German is a lot more than that.
“I think she’s really good at also being aggressive. She takes time away, especially with her forehand down the line,” said Keys. “So what might be considered a “safe ball” against some people isn’t, because you know you’re going to be on the run. And she will come forward, and she just does a really good job of balancing getting every ball back but also putting you in a bad position.”
Kerber, who now owns a 7-1 head-to-head lead over Keys, said: “I knew what to expect. I mean, Madison is a hard hitter, and she served good. So I was trying to playing from the first point aggressive and moving good and also bringing a lot of balls back.
“I think this is always my game the last few weeks that I tried to improve, and this was also the plan today, I mean, going out there, trying to, yeah, taking the match in my hands. I’m feeling the ball really good, and I was enjoying the match. I was going out there and trying to playing my tennis again. Yeah, it was a good feeling again.”