DUBAI, UAE - Down a set for the second match running, top seed Simona Halep pulled off another Houdini act to reach the semifinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Just about 24 hours after authoring a great escape against Tunisia's Ons Jabeur - by saving a match point in one of the most dramatic matches of the season so far - Halep found herself a set down against another in-form opponent in Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka.
The 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 result flipped the script of the pair's last meeting - a straight-sets victory for the Belarusian in the quarterfinals of the Adelaide International in January - where Halep admitted that she couldn't "touch the ball that much" against a redlining Sabalenka.
"I think I started to play a little bit stronger in the second set and find rhythm," Halep said on-court after the match. "It's always tough to play against her because she's very strong and hits the ball really, really hard, so I had to play faster, be quicker on court and give everything I had to win.
"Always, it's tough against her because she's a little bit taller than me and she has a lot of power. I just had to block some balls, and to get the initiative to go and open the court."
While Thursday's opening set was much the same, in which the No.7 seed showed off some of her best power tennis off the ground and on serve, the World No.2 was ultimately able to reel in Sabalenka over the course of one hour and 35 minutes in the first three-setter between the two.
"At the beginning it was a little bit fast everything, too powerful. Since I got the rhythm, it was much easier for me to feel the game," Halep told reporters after the match.
"I think I played quicker in the second set and third set. She didn't have time to stay and to hit the ball. So I think that was the key of the match."
Halep earned what proved to be the decisive service break in the second and third sets in the same game, breaking the Belarusian's serve to lead 3-1 on both occasions. After breaking initially to lead 2-0 in the second set but dropping serve in the ensuing game, Halep never again faced break point for the duration of the match.
In fact, in her last eight service games of the victories, she was taken to deuce just one - denying Sabalenka a look at the most tightly-contested game of the bunch as she eventually consolidated her break for 4-1 in the decider.
To earn her third victory in four meetings against Sabalenka overall, the Romanian broke serve six times and rounded into her best serving form in the final set, where she never faced break point and landed 71 percent of her first serves to advance to her first semifinal in Dubai since 2015.
For a berth in her first final since winning Wimbledon last July, Halep will have to get past Jennifer Brady for the second time in the span of a month. The Romanian defeated the American in the first round of the Australian Open, 7-6(5), 6-1, but not before needing to save set points in the first set.
"It's good to be in the semifinals again here. I love the conditions. I love playing in Dubai. I just want to enjoy, to take it as an opportunity to win another match. I know it's going to be tough. We played in Melbourne, and it was not easy," Halep assessed.
"I think she's got a lot of confidence during these matches. She's winning against tough opponents and top players. She has a strong game. Her forehand is really good. She improved in the backhand.
"It's a tough one, but I'm ready to play it. Hopefully I can do my job."