Wednesday, 24 January 2018 07:37 AM GMT
Australian Open Day 10: Halep and Kerber set up blockbuster semi-final

Halep rolls past Pliskova

It’s probably a tactic she’ll want to avoid in future, but falling 0-3 down to Karolina Pliskova turned out to be an inspired move from Simona Halep.

Whether that early deficit sparked her into life or lulled Pliskova into a false sense of security, it worked in Halep’s favour as the world No.1 produced some of her best tennis of the tournament to embark on a nine-game winning streak, ultimately triumphing 6-3, 6--2.

Undoubtedly the superior player defensively, Halep was surprisingly the aggressor at times against Pliskova, notably hitting 12 winners in the first set to the Czech’s seven.

But as Halep’s level rose and rose, Pliskova’s nosedived. By the time she had fallen 3-0 down in the second set, the No.6 seed had hit three times as many unforced errors as her opponent.

The Czech did stop the rot, holding for 3-1, and while she began to connect with the ball better, she couldn’t reel Halep back in, with the world No.1 maintaining her advantage to reach the last four at Melbourne for the first time in her career.

"For sure it wasn't my best start, but I just knew I had to restart after three games, to stop missing as much and move better, which I did well in the end," said Halep.

Awaiting her in the semi-finals is Angelique Kerber, with both women unbeaten so far in 2018. Something's got to give...

Kerber rattles through Keys

Angelique Kerber surged emphatically into the Australian Open semi-finals with a 6-1, 6-2 demolition job on Madison Keys.

Billed as a matchup between Kerber’s renowned powers of retrieval and Keys’ heavy-duty shotmaking, the American was unable to make this into a contest and was swept off court and out of the tournament in just 51 minutes.

Where Keys had been devastating against Caroline Garcia in the previous round, here she was error prone and well below her best, failing to hit with the depth and accuracy required to breach Kerber’s defences.

Having said that, it would have taken a monumental performance to oust the German, such was the quality of her play.

Rock solid as usual in defence, the 2016 Australian Open champion is looking to add more aggression to her game - an ominous sign for the rest of the tour.

“I know I'm good from the defence, and this is what makes me strong,” said Kerber. "But on the other side I know that I have to try to improve my game, as well.

“I know that I can play aggressive. I show this so many times during my practices. Now I just try to do it also during the matches. I think this was the goal for this season, and I try improving it in every single match.”

"She definitely played...more aggressive than any other time I have played against her,'' concurred Keys. "She was hitting winners, I really didn't have an answer for anything today.''

Keys’ weaponry did resurface early on in the second set, with the No.17 seed showing she could cause her opponent problems by recovering from 0-3 to 2-3.

But it was a fleeting glimpse of what the American is capable of, as Kerber quickly re-assumed control to march into the last four of the tournament, where she will meet either Simona Halep or Karolina Pliskova.

Hyeon continues on

Hyeon Chung backed up his breakout win over Novak Djokovic with a thoroughly professional, 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3 victory over Tennys Sandgren.

Perhaps the most unlikely Grand Slam quarter-final matchup in recent years, both players had confounded expectation just to reach this stage.

Coincidentally, they had contested their first career meeting just a few weeks ago in Auckland. There, Chung had won in three sets, but Sandgren’s performance had given him confidence that he could compete at a higher level.

The American has certainly proved that in Melbourne, beating both Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem in a career-best run.

But Chung proved to be a step too far, with the young South Korean further illustrating that his career trajectory is headed in only one direction.

Perhaps feeling the after effects of his five-set triumph over Thiem, Sandgren struggled with Chung’s movement in the opening stages, falling a set and a break behind.

Realising that he was often going to come off second best in extended rallies, Sandgren began to step into the court and showcase a very accomplished net game, recovering to lead 5-3 in the second set as a result.

Chung, whose level had dipped, rallied to force a tie-break, which would prove to be decisive. A tight affair filled with high quality tennis, Sandgren looked to have seized the initiative at 5-4, but netted and went long on two consecutive forehands, handing Chung a set point.

The 20-year-old grasped the opportunity to take a two set lead, and Sandgren’s challenge began to fade after Chung broke in a long service game at 2-1.

Serving at 5-3 up, Chung earned three match points at 40-0 and admitted he “was starting to think of what to do at the ceremony.”

The youngster quickly learned the importance of not getting ahead of yourself, though, as Sandgren as saved all three match points and then a further two in a highly entertaining passage of play.

But Chung would not be denied, and he claimed victory at the sixth attempt to become the youngest Australian Open semi-finalist since Marin Cilic in 2010.