erena Williams kept alive her hopes of a record 24th Grand Slam title as she blasted past Simona Halep 6-3, 6-3 and into the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
It will be a 40th career Grand Slam semi-final for the 39-year-old, who showed the sort of tennis for much of the match to indicate she might finally end her Grand Slam drought, which dates back to the 2017 Australian Open when pregnant with her daughter.
But 18 years on from her first Australian Open title and nearly 22 from her first ever Grand Slam title, there was a freshness to Williams’ game missing from recent Slams.
There was also a willingness to go for the big shots, which saw her winners evenly matched by unforced errors in a game plan which left Halep rushed, almost bullied off the court.
The Romanian did not play badly in the opening set but she was bludgeoned out of contention from the back of the court as Williams hit 14 winners to 13 unforced errors, her boldness paying off for a relatively easy opening set.
The Williams’ intensity dipped going into an error-strewn second set, which was no less compelling as a spectacle as both Williams’ conditioning and defence eventually held firm.
In 20 years at the Australian Open, Williams has lost just twice after winning the first set but that record looked to change in a bizarre start to the set in which there were five consecutive breaks of serve before Williams finally held to go 3-3.
From there, Williams raised the intensity to another level to set up a final-four encounter against Naomi Osaka.
Afterwards, Williams: “I realised I was making a lot of unforced errors and I had an opportunity to play better. Just stay in there and keep going and that’s what I did. This is the best match I’ve played this tournament. I had to going up against No2 in the world. I knew that I had to do better and that’s what I did. I’m excited.”
Osaka, meanwhile, needed just over an hour to book her place in the last four. The world No3 had been on the brink of a Melbourne exit in the preceding round against Garbine Muguruza before recovering from match points down for the win.
But her last-eight encounter against Hsieh Su-wei on Tuesday was far less dramatic, her Tawainese opponent with the unorthodox style unable to make inroads into the Osaka power in a 6-2, 6-2 result.
The 35-year-old did mount some initial pressure with a break point on the opening Osaka serve but it was the Japanese player who got the opening break of the match.
Ahead of a fifth career meeting – the pair are level at two apiece, Osaka said: “Serena’s someone that I feel really intimidated when I see her on the other side of the court.”
But the 2019 Australian Open champion, who is bidding for a fourth Grand Slam title this week, said she had been boosted by coming through her close shave in the previous round.
“I think my confidence was raised after I played Muguruza the other day just because she’s such a quality opponent and, like, my back was against the wall,” she said. “I’m at ease with how my game is right now.”