Halep, Zverev, Muguruza move into Australian Open semis

By: AFP      Published: 03:29 PM, 29 Jan, 2020
Halep, Zverev, Muguruza move into Australian Open semis
Halep, Zverev, Muguruza move into Australian Open semis
Halep, Zverev, Muguruza move into Australian Open semis

Simona Halep warned she's playing some of the best tennis of her career as she steamed into an Australian Open semi-final against fellow two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old Romanian is the only player in the women's draw not to drop a set in Melbourne and never looked in danger of doing so as she thrashed Estonian 28th seed Anett Kontaveit 6-1, 6-1 in 53 minutes.

Muguruza, who like Halep has won Wimbledon and the French Open, sealed a date with Halep with a 7-5, 6-3 quarter-final win over Russia's 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Muguruza edges Halep 3-2 in their five previous meetings, but Halep said she is in the kind of sizzling form that saw her defeat Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2 in the Wimbledon final in July.

The former world number one is also growing into the Australian Open, having said previously she was sluggish and tired at the outset. "I feel more energy going to the semi-finals. I feel more confident, I feel my game," said Halep, who is set to rise a place to second in the world rankings next week.

There has also been a change of mindset in Halep when she approaches Grand Slams, she said. "I just feel more confident and I feel like I'm able to do it," said the Romanian, a popular figure with her fellow players. "It's just a feeling that you don't see this trophy as impossible anymore.

"This is what I'm feeling about the Grand Slams now."

Halep, beaten in the 2018 final in Melbourne by Caroline Wozniacki, wasted no time asserting her authority over 28th seed Kontaveit, who was contesting her first Grand Slam quarter-final. Halep broke the 24-year-old in the third game of the first set, then again in the fifth game. Spectators at Rod Laver Arena had barely had time to settle into their seats.

Halep sealed a one-sided first set in 29 minutes with a rocket of a forehand that the overwhelmed Estonian had no chance of retrieving.

Meanwhile, German young gun Alexander Zverev stormed into his first Grand Slam semi-final, rallying from a set down to shatter the dreams of veteran Stan Wawrinka.

The seventh seed was thumped in the first set but recovered to grind down the 2014 champion 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in hot sun on Rod Laver Arena.

He will face either world number one Rafael Nadal or Austrian fifth seed Dominic Thiem in the last four, with a final beckoning against Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer.

"It feels awesome," said Zverev who has been donating $10,000 for each win at Melbourne Park to Australian bushfire relief, and will even hand over the Aus$4.12 million ($2.78 million) winner's cheque if he clinches the title.

"I've done well at other tournaments and in other matches but could never break that barrier in Grand Slams. You can't imagine what this means to me.

"It hope it will be the first of many." 

Big things have been tipped for Zverev since he burst into the top 10 in 2017, but until now the 22-year-old has not fully delivered, slipping down the rankings last year to seven from four at the start of the season.

But after a poor build-up to the year's opening Major at the ATP Cup, where he lost all three matches, he worked hard on the practice court and has been in fine touch to finally make a Grand Slam last four at his 19th attempt.

His serve, a key focus of his extended practices, was a weapon once again against 34-year-old three-time Grand Slam champion Wawrinka.

He fired 13 aces against just one double fault, with a first-serve percentage of 80 percent.