By Ros Satar, in Melbourne

  • Caroline Wozniacki [2] v Elise Mertens
  • Simona Halep [1] v Angelique Kerber [21]
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – The Women’s semi-finals are set, with Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki and Elise Mertens battling for a place in Saturday’s final.

 

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Caroline Wozniacki [2] v Elise Mertens | H2H: Wozniacki leads 1-0

Caroline Wozniacki in action at the Australian Open, 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

For someone who had one foot out of the competition in just the second round, No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki has been able to regroup and be exceptionally solid for the rest of the tournament.

Jana Fett had her on the ropes, but experience came through and she weathered the storm to advance, where up until facing Carla Suárez Navarro in the quarter-final, she looked immovable. In fact she ripped past the Spaniard in the first set, before Suárez Navarro came back at her.

Elise Mertens at the Australian Open, 2018

Elise Mertens at the Australian Open, 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

She faces Elise Mertens who last year had to miss the Australian Open thanks to a now removed rule that stopped you from playing a tournament and Grand Slam qualification in the same week. Pipped to the post in Hobart from retiring in her match, Mertens stayed on and won the title, but delayed her Australian Open debut until this year.

What a year it has been. she started the season in Hopman Cup and along with Angelique Kerber, provided one of the matches of the tournament in Perth. She is also the only semi-finalist not to have dropped a set thus far in the competition.

So beware writing her off just yet. In her match against an ailing Elina Svitolina she dominated from the badeline, and can do a lot of damage with her forehand, not to mention her stronger backhand. But her strength is that she s an all-court attacker.

Wozniacki is of course known for her defensive skills as one of the most dogged counterpunchers out there. Her turn of speed and ability to turn that defence into offence is key to her game strategy, but can she match the variety that Mertens can bring at the net?

Experience says that Wozniacki will guts out the win, but it will cost her three sets, most likely having to come from a set down.

The Dane remembers her last encounter with Mertens: “I remember playing her in Bastad. She’s a great player, has been having a great year so far. She’s very talented, obviously had a very good tournament this week. It’s going to be very difficult.”

As Mertens was the first of the four women to qualify, she was not sure of her opponent but had gone the distance with both in the past.

“It’s going to be a tough match. Semifinal, anything can happen. I just have to believe in myself and still have energy left to do great stuff.”

Prediction: Wozniacki in three sets.

 

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Simona Halep [1] v Angelique Kerber [21] | Kerber leads 5-4

Simona Halep in the second round of the Australian Open, 2018

Simona Halep in the second round of the Australian Open, 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

It still feels inconceivable that this time last year, Kerber was the World No. 1 and here to defend her first Grand Slam title. A year of pressure took its toll on the German and with her confidence shot, it was a miserable time for her.

A new coach in Wim Fissette and a renewed aggression to her game and Kerber is looking nigh on unstoppable at the moment.

Now we have a new World No. 1 who is dying to have that pressure on her shoulders. However it is not the shoulders that are taking the strain at the moment – a nasty ankle turn in her first round match has meant Simona Halep has had to change her expectations.

Now it is about getting through the matches unscathed as a bonus. She survived a marathon of a match against a fellow scamperer in Lauren Davis, and since then has not looked back, coasting past Karolina Pliskova, winning nine games on the bounce.

Kerber’s biggest headache was against Hsieh Su-Wei who almost sent the two-time Grand Slam champion packing, but her performance against Madison Keys was much as her match against Maria Sharapova had been – sheer domination and running every ball down.

Halep is prepared to run – a lot!

“You think (smiling)? For sure is going to be a second marathon this tournament. But I’m used to that. I know her pretty well. I know she’s very strong opponent, very strong player. She likes here.

“But I started to like this tournament. After two years in a row losing in the first round, now it’s a better result. I just want to go there and to give everything I have like I did the last matches.

“I’m not thinking about the result. It’s really tough to think about that because of all the things that I had. Now I’m just trying to play everything I have and to play the best to win it.”

Kerber is also prepared for a tough battle:

“I think it will be a long match with a lot of long rallies. I played against her a lot of times, and it was always tough and close.

“At the end, it’s the same. It doesn’t matter against who I play. I’m in the semis right now, and I will try to continue how I play, and this is, for me, the most important thing.”

While they have not played since 2016, Kerber has won their last two battles, and on her current form it is hard not to see her battling her way to another Australian Open final.

Prediction: Kerber in three sets.

Mertens and Wozniacki are scheduled on Rod Laver Arena, not before 2pm (3am GMT), Kerber and Halep not before 4pm (5am GMT)

 

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