In a crazy semi final that was full of momentum swings, Simona Halep dug deep into her energy reserves to overcome a tremendous fighter in Angelique Kerber and win through to her first Australian Open women’s singles final.
In a match that will live long in the memory, Halep survived two match points and almost blew two of her own chances on match points to emerge with a 6-3 4-6 9-7 victory and advance to Saturday’s final to face Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki.
“I feel happy,” Halep said.
“I feel proud that I could stay there and fight till the end. So it’s a nice feeling. I’m looking forward for the last match of this tournament.”
Halep was keen for a fast start, having given up the opening three games in her quarter final win over Karolina Pliskova.
The 26-year-old from Romania did just that, claiming the opening five games of the first set.
In a precursor to how the match would play out, Kerber launch a ferocious fightback, breaking twice and breathing a bit of life into the match.
Halep, though, would break back to take the set 6-3, but the momentum seem to shift Kerber’s way.
However, Kerber once again found herself a down a break early in the second set, but it was not like she was not playing bad tennis, it was just that Halep was playing at an incredibly high level, a level only reserved for a world No. 1.
But Halep’s 3-1 lead disappeared fast with a never-give-in Kerber somehow finding two more breaks and going on to take the second set.
You just knew that it was going to take a marathon effort from both players to decide the outcome.
The first golden opportunity in the third and deciding set came to Halep.
Leading 5-4, Halep had two match points, but both were spectacularly denied by the stubborn Kerber.
With another shift of momentum, it was Kerber’s time to let a pair of opportunities slip.
Overtaking the scoreboard to lead 6-5, Kerber had a chance to clinch the match, but she also coughed up two match points on her own serve.
Having blown her two match points earlier, Halep was not about to make the same mistake.
With an 8-7 lead, Halep found the match-winning point that she so desperately yearned and raised both arms up in triumph to her coach Darren Cahill in the players box.
Halep admitted that negative thoughts had crossed her mind stages of a mentally draining battle.
“I had actually two moments when I felt that the match was over. I have no power and everything is gone,” she said.
“But I served pretty well in the service games, and then I got confident again. And like I said, I didn’t give up, which meant a lot, and that’s how I won the match.”
It will be remembered as one of the great matches in Australian Open history.
It had some ridiculously long rallies where neither player refused to give an inch and drew standing ovations from the Rod Laver Arena crowd.
There were some spectacular winners hit from both sides of the court and some crafty points won at the net.
The big question is, how much energy will Halep have left in the tank for the final?
Earlier in the day, Wozniacki took care of business in her semi final, ousting Belgian Elise Mertens.
Wozniacki, the second seed, needed a second set tie breaker to overcome Mertens 6-3 7-6 (2) in 1 hour 37 minutes.
Like Halep, Wozniacki is yet to break through for a grand slam title, so we will have a new champion on Saturday night.
Wozniacki has featured in two slam finals – both at the US Open – but came out on the wrong end of the scoreline.
Halep has also featured in two – both at the French Open – and will be looking to create her own history.
If the final is half as good as the tennis played in the women’s singles semi final, it will be a night to savour.
Meanwhile, Croatia’s Marin Cilic is the first player through to the men’s singles final.
Cilic eased to a 6-2 7-6 6-2 win over British surprise packet Kyle Edmund on Thursday night.
Cilic, the sixth seed, will await the winner of the Friday night semi final between favourite Roger Federer and the up and coming Hyeon Chung.