In an all-out war, world No. 2 Simona Halep led a late charge by taking the final five games of her second-round match to deny home hopeful Ajla Tomljanovic, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, on Wednesday night at the Australian Open.
"I was not that positive when I was talking to myself. I didn't talk about the score," Halep said of her body language in the middle of the third set during an on-court interview. "I was just blaming myself that I'm not strong enough to play against her. But in the end, I was mentally a little bit stronger. I had the desire to win the match and I didn't want to give up."
Throughout the evening, Tomljanovic’s wide deuce serve and backhand drop shot consistently came up clutch, nearly leading her to pull off the biggest win of her career. In the end, it just wasn’t enough to topple the mettle and brilliance of Halep.
In the final set, Tomljanovic recovered from letting a break lead slip by pulling the trigger in a superb sixth game to break again at love with a pair of forehand lasers Halep could only watch sail by. She successfully consolidated to move ahead 5-2. After failing to serve out the upset two games later, Tomljanovic was two points away in the following game when a double fault from Halep put the Romanian in a 15-30 hole at 4-5.
Halep dug in, and like she’s done so often, got herself up for the moment. She didn’t buckle, locating three successive first serves to hold. The battle hit a new level of intensity for the next five minutes, as Tomljanovic fought off three break points with courageous ball-striking, until two surprising unforced errors saw her drop serve. Halep then held at 15 to close out the comeback in two hours and 34 minutes.
"I'm really happy and proud of what I did today on court for the fighting that I did," Halep told press.
"I have to apologize to my team because I was very negative with them also. But it happens, and we talked after the match. Darren said that you looked like old Simo. I said, 'No, I have improved in something. I was fighting [until] the end.' And he agreed with me."
The No. 2 seed will aim to take another step forward against No. 32 seed Veronika Kudermetova in the third round, with No. 15 seed Iga Swiatek looming as a possible round-of-16 opponent.