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Top seed Halep digs deep against impressive Kenin

By Agencies - Jan 17,2019 - Last updated at Jan 17,2019

Romania’s Simona Halep celebrates after winning the match against Sofia Kenin of the US at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Thursday (Reuters photo by Adnan Abidi)

MELBOURNE — World No. 1 Simona Halep scraped through to an Australian Open third round clash with Venus Williams on Thursday after being pushed to the limit by unseeded Sofia Kenin over three sets.

The Romanian top seed eventually downed the American 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 after two-and-a-half hours in another unconvincing display after also struggling in her opening match.

The pressure on the reigning French Open champion will only increase in her next round, when she faces seven-time Grand Slam champion Williams.

“I have no idea how I won this tonight, it’s so tough to explain what happened on court,” Halep said after overcoming the dogged Kenin, ranked 37 in the world and fresh from winning the warm-up Hobart International.

Halep, 27, won the first set comfortably and appeared to be cruising at 3-0 up in the third when her momentum faltered, and she found herself in a battle for survival.

“It was difficult to stay in there for every ball and run so much,” she said.

“I got a little bit injured in the second set but I just fought because I wanted to win.”

Halep did not provide details of her injury, but a herniated disc cut short her season last year.

She lost an epic final to Caroline Wozniacki in Melbourne in 2018 but arrived this year on a five-match losing streak, equalling the worst run of her career.

The Romanian paid tribute to Kenin, a Russian-born American aged just 20, whose lost in the first round on her only previous campaign at Melbourne Park last year.

“It was a very tough one, she’s an amazing player,” she said.

Halep made a promising start with a break in the first game and kept the rallies short on her own serve to hold easily.

Kenin’s error rate mounted as the first set wore on and Halep broke again to claim it after 33 minutes.

Halep looked to be cruising early in the second set, with Kenin scoring only two points as the Romanian raced to a 3-0 lead.

But the American fought back with a break in the fifth and took the set to a tie-break, forcing a decider when a scrambling Halep hit her return long after a 12-shot rally.

The third set’s opening game, turned into an epic arm-wrestle that went to deuce seven times as Halep failed to convert four break points against the dogged Kenin.

Disaster loomed when the Romanian went down a break in the sixth game, but she rallied to get back on level terms in the next, then made a decisive second break. 

US Open champion Naomi Osaka called for the trainer and took a tablet during her dominant second round win over unseeded Slovenian Tamara Zidansek at the Australian Open on Thursday, but declined to reveal any details of her ailment.

The first player from an Asian country to win the US Open singles title, Osaka was hampered by a back injury towards the end of last season and withdrew from the Sydney International in the leadup to Melbourne Park after making the Brisbane semi-finals.

Osaka called for the trainer and took medication when leading 2-1 in the second set against Zidansek, but otherwise appeared in rude health as she bashed her way to a rousing 6-2, 6-4 win.

“I was able to finish and win the match, so it’s not that big of a deal,” the Japanese 21-year-old told reporters.

“It’s something that I have to keep an eye on. I’m not telling you, though.

“You’ll never guess. You’ll never find out,” she added with a smile.

Fourth seed Osaka reached the fourth round of last year’s Australian Open and has been getting used to the attention that comes with being a Grand Slam champion after New York.

She said she still felt too new to the tour to feel comfortable hugging her rivals after matches and preferred a handshake-first policy.

“The thing is, I’m used to handshakes. Every time someone comes for a hug, I’m very confused,” she said.

“I’m told that I give out the worst hugs, too.

“It’s not necessarily the best situation for me to try to hug someone unless I really know them. And I don’t really know anybody, so.”

Osaka, who will play Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei for a place in the fourth round, gave a second serving of joy to Japanese fans, who had watched compatriot Kei Nishikori close out a five-set cliffhanger against Ivo Karlovic on the previous match at Margaret Court Arena.

Osaka ran into Nishikori, Asia’s first male Grand Slam finalist when he made the 2014 US Open title-decider, when walking in the tunnel through to the court before her match.

“I told him, ‘Nice match’. He looked very tired. I was just like, ‘Oh, excuse me, I’ll get out of your way. You had a very, very long match. I had to warm up four times, so thank you for that.’”

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