Serena Williams staved off a spectacular fightback from world number one Simona Halep to win 6-1 4-6 6-4 and reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Monday.
French Open champion Halep broke Williams’ serve in the first game but that was the only one she managed for the rest of the opening set as the 23-time Grand Slam champion bulldozed her way through the set in 20 minutes, serving it out with an ace.
The victory was a major step towards the 37-year-old U.S. great equalling Australian Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam wins as she powered into the last eight.
It looked as if she would breeze through the match after the opening set mauling she had handed out but the world number one Halep had other plans as she fought back to level the contest at one set apiece 1-1 after breaking Williams a second time.
Following an attritional first few games, the seven-times Australian Open champion got the crucial break of serve in the seventh game of the decider and sealed the match in an hour and 47 minutes when Halep hit a forehand out.
“It was a really intense match and there were some incredible points but I love playing tennis… It’s really cool to be back out and playing again on this court,” Williams said in her courtside interview.
“I really needed to elevate my game, she’s the number one player in the world and there’s a reason why.
“In order for me to stay out there, I just had to play a little bit like I knew I could, and I did.”
For a place in the semi-finals, Williams will meet Czech seventh seed Karolina Pliskova, who thrashed twice Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza 6-3 6-1 earlier on Monday.