Australian Open: What you need to know

ICYMI: Best of Day 8

DAY 9 MATCHES TO WATCH

When Simona Halep was asked about her next opponent following a rousing fourth-round win Sunday night, she interrupted before the interviewer got the name out.

“Legend,” Halep said of Serena Williams.

The numbers, quite frankly, are beginning to approach ridiculous.

Serena is:

  • Appearing in her 77th Grand Slam main draw and her 20th Australian Open.
  • A seven-time champion at Melbourne Park; her first title came in 2003, when third-round opponent, Anastasia Potapova, was 1 year old.
  • Looking for her 11th Grand Slam singles title since turning 30. The total amassed by everyone else in the history of the planet … is 12.

The biggest number, of course, is 24. That’s the record-tying total of Grand Slam singles titles, Serena will own if she can win three more matches here. She’s 39 years old, already the oldest woman to win a major title – and that was more than four years ago, right here at Melbourne Park.

“She’s the only one with 23 Grand Slams, so you cannot compare Serena with all of us, because we do not have so many Grand Slams,” Halep explained.

Serena is well aware of what’s at stake.

“It’s quarterfinal of a Grand Slam,” she said. “I’ve been here more times than I could even count.”

For those of you scoring at home, this is Serena’s 54th quarterfinal in a major. She’s looking for her 40th semifinal.

Here are the two terrific quarterfinal matches from the bottom half of the draw to be played Tuesday:

No. 2 Simona Halep vs. No. 10 Serena Williams

Head to Head

More Head to Head
-
simona halep
ROU
16.7% Win 2
- Matches Played
83.3% Win 10
-
serena williams
USA

The head-to-head says Serena has a 9-2 edge, but this series goes back to 2011 Wimbledon, nearly a decade ago. The two relevant matches are the most recent.

Serena won a fourth-round match at the 2019 Australian Open, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, and six months later at Wimbledon, it was Halep winning 6-2, 6-2.

“[Wimbledon 2019], I think it was one of the best in my life,” Halep said. “The best day actually of my life. I felt very confident back then. I felt every ball. I felt all the game. But I’m not different mentally from that day. I just think that two matches in a row cannot be the same, so I’m just getting ready to face her here.”

Both players, facing strong opposition dropped a set in their fourth-round matches. Serena defeated No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka in a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 slugfest. Halep lost the first set to reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek but came back to win for the second time in three sets, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Photo by Getty Images

Trying to be more aggressive than she was in her previous match with Swiatek in Paris, Halep went with flatter, harder shots, a strategy that didn’t work.

“Simona kind of changed her tactics,” Swiatek explained. “She started playing with more topspin, and that’s actually the thing that was hard for me to control my shots. Yeah, I felt like I didn’t have a lot of energy in the second set, so I tried to save it for the third, and third, when I got broken, I couldn’t unbroke.”

It was the 100th Grand Slam match-win for Halep, who has been ranked for 348 consecutive weeks in the WTA’s top 10.

After defeating Sabalenka, more than anything Serena seemed more embarrassed that she had fallen awkwardly in the second set. Her heavily taped right ankle was not injured.

“It didn’t hurt at all,” she said. “I didn’t roll my ankle, so that was good. Yeah, I think it was just dramatic, me being dramatic.”

With Williams-Halep XII upcoming, there should be more drama where that came from.

No. 3 Naomi Osaka vs. Hsieh Su-Wei

Head to Head

More Head to Head
-
naomi osaka
JPN
83.3% Win 5
- Matches Played
16.7% Win 1
-
su-wei hsieh
TPE

It’s the three-time Grand Slam champion against an unseeded 35-year-old who, after her 300th WTA match, finds herself in a major quarterfinal for the first time.

Osaka is the obvious favorite, but things are not always as they seem.

Though Osaka’s head-to-head advantage is 4-1, four of those five matches went three sets. They met four times in 2019 alone, and it was Hsieh – a master of precision over power – who took the only straight-sets victory in a round-of-16 match in Stuttgart.

 “I just remember having, like, so many emotions just because I felt like there wasn’t a lot of things I could control while I was playing her,” Osaka said. “In a sense, whenever I play, I feel like the racquet or the ball is on my racquet. Whenever I play her, there’s a bit of hesitation in that mindset for me.”

Said Hsieh: “We all know she’s a very good player. Anyone play her, they will get troubles. I not worry about it. She probably going to smash me on the court. I try to play my game, do my job, see what happens.”

Hsieh, ranked No. 71 from Chinese Taipei, is the only unseeded player left among the four in this section. What, specifically, makes her game so difficult?

Photo by Getty Images

“I mean, have you watched her play?” Osaka said, causing laughter from reporters. “It’s like, `What?’ She’s one of those players that, for me, if it was a video game, I would want to select her character just to play as her. Because my mind can’t fathom the choices she makes when she’s on the court.

“It’s not fun to play, but it’s really fun to watch.”

Osaka fought off two match points to upend No. 14 Garbine Mugaruza in a terrific fourth-round match, while Hseih dispatched No. 19 Marketa Vondrousova.

Osaka has won 18 consecutive matches. Hseih, even at her advanced age, is having the time of her life.

“At my age?” she asked. “OK, I try to pretend I’m only 18 years old. My mental is very young. I try to look little bit young this time. It helps a lot.

“I quite enjoy to play every match, even if I get torture. I think it’s quite fun every time you play. I want to try to find a way and try to get into the game.”