ROME, Italy - Simona Halep resurrected herself midway through the third set and reached the biggest semifinal of her career Friday afternoon, outlasting Jelena Jankovic in a thriller in the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Awaiting the Romanian qualifier is the World No.1, Serena Williams.
Halep had a long road to the quarterfinals - two qualifying matches, including a win over Daniela Hantuchova, and a tough draw that saw her have to get past Svetlana Kuznetsova, No.4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska and No.13 seed Roberta Vinci in her first three rounds - she did get past them.
Jankovic provided far more resistance, though. Halep was on the brink of losing several times in the third set - Jankovic built a 3-0 double break lead, again went up a break at 4-3, again broke for 5-4 and held double match point in that game too - it was a virtual minefield of pressure points. But Halep overcame them all and after one last Jankovic error she won, 46 60 75, and dropped to the court.
"I changed my strategy after the first set - I knew I just had nothing to lose," Halep commented. "She had a lot of chances to win the match at the end but I just believed in myself and tried to enjoy it."
Halep is now through to her biggest semifinal. It's her second Premier-level semifinal - she was a finalist at Brussels last year, at around this time too - but that was a smaller Premier-level event with $637,000 in total prize money, while this week's event in Rome has a $2,369,000 prize purse.
"I definitely felt like I needed to start strong," Williams said. "It was the same as before, I'm really just focused on me, more or less. I'm in the semifinals now and my goal is to do two better here."
Williams has now won 22 matches in a row, the longest winning streak of her career - she strung together a pair of 21-match winning streaks earlier in her career, one in 2002 (which was snapped by Chanda Rubin in Los Angeles) and one in 2003 (which was snapped by Justine Henin in Charleston).
"I guess this is the best period in my career, but I don't really think about it," Williams said of the win streak. "For me it's just about winning matches and winning tournaments and being consistent."
Williams beat Halep in their only previous meeting, though it was a tough one - a 36 62 61 win in the second round of Wimbledon two years ago, early on in Williams' comeback from a year-long injury and illness lay-off. After getting outsteadied in the first set of that match Williams took it to another level, hitting 25 winners to 10 unforced errors in the second and third sets combined - in the third set she actually won 100% of her first serve points and didn't allow a single winner to go by her.
"Usually players of that height don't serve as well - she has so much power on her serve, that's actually really awesome," Williams said about the Romanian's delivery after that Wimbledon meeting.
Halep will be playing a World No.1 for the third time, having played Victoria Azarenka twice in 2012 - the results in those matches weren't so favorable for her, losing by 63 61 and 61 61 scorelines.