January 21, 2019
Serena Williams looked on the verge of defeat to a resurgent Simona Halep. Perhaps we should all have known better.
Minutes later, the ultimate tennis warrior had taken the match and downed the world number one.
Serena rode her luck, dug deep and found solutions to serious problems. It could have been too late. It wasn’t.
On such fine margins are titles won and lost, history books written and rewritten.
At least Halep took her untimely loss of touch much better than Sascha Zverev, who demolished his racquet in a ridiculous tantrum when his serve deserted him.
Although the German recovered his cool and some sort of form for the third set, he was still beaten 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 by the big-serving Raonic.
And there was another shocking tantrum at the end of Japanese hero Kei Nishikori’s marathon 6-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6 victory over Pablo Carreno Busta.
The beaten player stormed off, still lashing out verbally at the umpire for refusing to replay a point after a late line call.
After more than five hours of scintillating tennis, it was a sad way for the contest to end.
But Nishikori’s reward for his perseverence is a mouthwatering clash with Novak Djokovic.
The Serb favourite looked vulnerable at times during his four-set win over Daniil Medvedev.
Djokovic complained of ‘a bit of fatigue and a bit of hurt in the back’ afterwards.
And if Nishikori can himself recover adequately from more than thirteen hours on court so far this tournament, he has a fighting chance of success.
Back to Serena, though. She faced the exit door when Halep had break points to go 4-2 ahead in the final set.
Simona will regret the mishit and the unforced error when she might otherwise have taken a commanding lead on the home strait.
Serena was struggling to reach Halep’s passes down the line at that point, or indeed her cross-court forehands into the corners.
Age appeared to be catching the American once more, as happened at recent Slams when she was faced with a determined opponent of top quality.
But this time Williams found a way. She began to anticipate better, serve bigger and battle even harder. There was no tantrum either.
Halep couldn’t cope with the late onslaught, or indeed with having missed her big chance.
She never seized back the momentum from Serena, who soon won 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, and now plays Karolina Pliskova.
So Serena’s dream of an historic 24th Grand Slam singles title is still alive.
Can she do it?
That will depend upon how well she can maintain her lateral movement against increasingly demanding opponents in the final stages in Melbourne.
She fell one step short at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows. It could even happen again.
But with her incredible willpower, Serena Williams won’t stop trying to prove the doubters wrong.