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Simona Halep burns bright in Melbourne thriller, grits past Golubic to reach semifinals
The former world No. 1 battled an inspired opponent and a shaky serve to ultimately advance in three grueling sets at the Melbourne Summer Set.
Published Jan 07, 2022
WATCH: Halep edged through a nearly three-hour epic over Golubic to reach the final four.
Simona Halep found Rod Laver Arena chilly to start her quarterfinal clash with Viktorija Golubic and nearly found things too hot to handle when the Swiss star rallied from a set and a break down. Battling through a dramatic decider, the former world No. 1 brought turned cold as fire long enough to secure a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 victory—and a spot in the Melbourne Summer Set semifinals.
Seeded No. 2 opposite two-time Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, Halep is back on the move up the WTA rankings after exiting the Top 10 in 2021, and showed off her signature “Fighter Girl” persona through a grueling two hours and 34 minutes on court.
Halep began the week in pristine form Down Under, searing through early-round encounters with Destanee Aiava and countrywoman Elena-Gabriela Ruse before booking a first tour-level meeting with Golubic, who pulled off a breakthrough 2021 season that included a Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance and Olympic silver medal in women’s doubles.
Golubic would show none of that pedigree at the onset of their Friday afternoon encounter, managing just three points on her own serve through an unrelenting opening set from the Romanian. Halep continued the momentum early in the second and though Golubic got on the board, all looked on course for a clear victory from the two-time major champion.
Struggles on her own serve would set in from there, and Halep would drop five of six games from 6-2, 4-2 up, and fail to serve out the match at 5-4. For her part, the 30-year-old was unflinching in her assessment.
I feel like it’s possible to get back to the Top 10—I have that confidence—but I know it’ll be very difficult. I just have to put in hard work and trust. Simona Halep
“Nothing was working today. My serve was shit,” she told former pro Jill Craybas during her on-court interview before apologizing to the laughing crowd. “I have to say that; sorry for the word, but it really was!
“I fought with myself a lot today, to control my emotions, but she put me in these situations and put pressure on myself.”
From unable to win points on serve, Golubic indeed had Halep on the ropes with some icy one-handed backhands, and held a commanding 0-40 lead at 4-3, one that would have let her serve for the match had she converted.
Halep, at last healthy after a season rife with injuries, dug in her heels and saved a fourth break point before putting the pressure back on the Swiss, culminating with a thrilling display of defense to break once more and reclaim the lead.
Defense turned to offense on match point as Halep, a giant despite her 5’6” frame, flung herself into a final forehand winner—her 16th of the match—to edge over the finish line.
Coming into 2022 without the fanfare befitting a former No. 1, Halep openly pondered when next she, a lowly world No. 20, would next feature at the Happy Slam’s hottest stadium, but with goals as big as Top 10 by the end of the season, the 2018 Australian Open finalist is embracing the rare opportunity to hunt those ahead of her.
“I like the challenge, and I like the pressure,” she explained after the match. “It’s good that I got to have a restart, or a refresh in my mind. This isn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but I was injured and couldn’t play. It’s not like I couldn’t win matches because I played bad. I feel like it’s possible to get back—I have that confidence—but I know it’ll be very difficult. I just have to put in hard work and trust.”
Halep will next face surprise semifinalist Zheng Qinwen on Saturday, and could face top seed Osaka in what would be the hottest championship match of the week.