World No. 1 Simona Halep survived an unlikely upset bid at the Australian Open after a stunning rally to beat unseeded American Lauren Davis 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 on Saturday in a match that lasted 3 hours, 44 minutes.
“I gave everything I had today, and actually, I’m really proud that I could stay there and win it,” Halep said in her post-match press conference. “It was not easy at all. She played great.”
The top-seeded Romanian had a chance to serve for the match at 6-5, but Davis continued to make Halep work and rallied to force a break and even the match.
It was Davis’ third time breaking Halep’s serve in the third set.
Tied 6-all, Davis held on the next game to put Halep on the defensive after having played for 2:20 already, but Halep responded with an easy hold. The two traded breaks, with Davis refusing to wilt after falling behind.
In the next game, Davis fell behind at deuce several times but managed to dig out repeatedly to hold serve and take a 9-8 lead. Halep, serving for her tournament life, was forced to deuce but managed to hold.
Davis dominated the next service game and again put Halep on the defensive.
Clearly wearing down, Halep fell behind 30-15 and again wound up at deuce twice before holding as the match approached the three-hour mark.
Davis held to make it 11-10, then quickly jumped ahead 40-0 on Halep’s serve. Halep fended off three match points to force deuce as Davis appeared to start cramping. Halep won the next two points to even the match at 11-all.
In obvious pain, Davis then approached the umpire to explain that one of her toenails fell off and was attended to on the bench as Halep waited for her chance to continue her momentum.
Six minutes later, play resumed and Davis won her first service point before falling behind 40-15 on a double fault. Davis managed to force it to deuce five times before finally holding serve yet again. Halep calmly responded to tie it up again at 12-all.
Davis won the next service, then again received treatment briefly on her toe before failing to break Halep as the match passed the 3:30 mark.
Halep finally broke Davis on the next serve, giving her a chance to serve out with a 14-13 lead.
Both players fighting cramps at this point, Halep got it to match point at 40-30 and finally put Davis away when the American sent a shot wide.
“Definitely was a very tough match, so long,” said Halep, who has never won a Grand Slam singles title. “I never played the third set so long, so I’m really happy I could stay and win it. I’m almost dead.”
Halep battled through fatigue and an injury when she twisted her left ankle in the first round.
“I just feel that my muscles are gone,” Halep said. “My ankle is, I don’t know how it is because I don’t feel it anymore. But … it was nice to win this match.”
The match equaled the longest women’s singles match at the Australian Open in terms of games played (Chanda Rubin’s win over Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1996 was also 48 games).
The 24-year-old Davis continued to put pressure on Halep during the long rallies, finishing with almost twice the number of winners (52 to 27) against slightly less than double the unforced errors (73 to 39). She broke Halep’s serve six times.
“We were both fighting our hearts out. Every point was super long,” Davis said. “I got to the point where I was so tired, I just told myself to swing and move. I didn’t feel any pressure.”
Halep will next play 20-year-old Naomi Osaka of Japan, who beat 18th-seeded Australian Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-2 in the third round.
Meanwhile, 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber defeated 2008 winner Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-3 to reach the fourth round.
Kerber, the No. 21 seed from Germany, is now the only Grand Slam champion in the fourth round of the women’s draw.
“I knew before that it will be a tough match,” Kerber said after the match. “I was trying to starting from the first point to being aggressive, but also staying really focused on my game, playing every single point. I mean, I know Maria is always fighting. After the first set, I was trying to not thinking about the score, just going for it, trying to being aggressive and playing actually my game.
“And it works. It works from the beginning. Yeah, I’m happy about how I played tonight. I was really trying to not thinking about everything around and everything about the match, about against who I’m playing. I was just more trying to going out on the special court for me and playing, again, good tennis.”
Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner from Russia, was back at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2016, when a failed doping test led to a 15-month ban from tennis.
“I gave her the confidence by making a lot of errors on the return games,” Sharapova said. “She’s a confident player at the moment. A lot of things I need to get better at and improve on. Looking at the overall picture — the beginning of this year — there’s a lot to build from.”
American Madison Keys, the No. 17 seed, advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Ana Bogdan of Romania.
Keys, who lost in the U.S. Open final last year Sloane Stephens, will next play No. 8 Caroline Garcia of France, who beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.
Keys is the only one of the four American women who reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open in September still in contention in Melbourne after Stephens, Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe were all eliminated in the first round.
“I finished the U.S. Open, and I was exhausted,” said Keys, who missed last year’s Australian Open after undergoing surgery to repair her injured left wrist. “So as amazing as that run was, the combination of being exhausted from that and having a wrist that still wasn’t 100 percent perfect, I just needed to kind of shut it down, calm down, and then I was really excited to start the new season.”
Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic had 11 aces to defeat fellow countrywoman and No. 29 seed Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5.
Su-Wei Hsieh of China, who beat Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza in the second round, knocked off No. 26 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-2, 7-5 in the final match of the night at Margaret Court Arena.
–Field Level Media