You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Serena outlasts Halep in 3-set thriller to reach US Open semis

theScore logo theScore 08-09-2016

Serena Williams survived her first real test of the US Open on Wednesday night, outlasting an in-form Simona Halep, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in a taut, dizzying quarterfinal on Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

In a match that showcased the ball-bashing proclivities of two of the game's best baseliners, Williams' serve proved the difference. Whatever the state of her fussy right shoulder, her delivery looked fluid and unhindered as she bombed 18 aces, plus 16 additional serves that didn't make it back onto her side of the court.

When she was actually able to get into some rallies, though, Halep rose to the challenge. She hit fearlessly and ferociously, driving the ball to all parts of the court and combining pace with control. She committed just 17 unforced errors across three sets, compared to Williams' 43. She handed Williams her first two breaks of the tournament (Williams had faced just one break point coming in), and incredibly staved off 16 break chances on her own serve - including all 12 she faced in the scintillating second set.

That set produced some of the highest-quality tennis seen in Flushing Meadows this year, punctuated by flat, searing groundstroke exchanges in which each player yanked the other across every inch of Arthur Ashe's DecoTurf. Halep started attacking Williams' backhand, slowly breaking it down and producing a slew of errors. Williams ran Halep ragged, pushing her back with heavy forehands and then pulled her in with drop shots. There were 17 combined break points, but only one break actually changed hands.

The set ended with a 22-point game in which each player watched four game points slip away, before Halep finally punched through on her fifth. It was the first set Williams had dropped in the tournament.

''I knew that I could play a lot better, and I felt like I kind of lost my rhythm a little bit in the second set," Williams said after the match. "Also, Simona started playing really well. She kept going for shots, and she did what she needed to do. But I knew if I wanted to win this, I had to step it up in the third set.''

Gut-check time came right off the bat in the decider, as Williams quickly fell in a 15-40 hold in her first service game. But Halep couldn't convert, Williams held on, and Halep never saw another break point. Williams broke two games later for a 3-1 lead, and took care of business on serve from there on out.

© Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY Sports

She grew emboldened while Halep's belief waned. She drove forward while Halep camped out on the baseline, ultimately winning 26 of 32 points at net. When it came time to serve it out, she made no mistake, burying Halep with a hail of service winners. 

Williams felt calm throughout the match, but couldn't explain why. "I guess it's just how I got out of bed today," she said.

With the win, Williams' No. 1 ranking is safe ... for now. Angelique Kerber, who plays Caroline Wozniacki in the opposite semifinal, remains in the driver's seat. Williams will have to beat Karolina Pliskova - who knocked out her sister Venus in the fourth round - in order to maintain her spot at the top of the pile.

More from theScore

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon