The stars have certainly been aligning for the 2018 finalist and former World No. 1 Simona Halep. Already a two-time grand slam winner, experience really seemed to be the key as Halep started on a mission.
As the match wore on, Anett Kontaveit, who had come out looking confident enough started to look more and more overwhelmed as nothing she was trying in terms of being aggressive on her own game was working with Halep gunning for every shot and running everything down.
Halep’s decision not to do her off-season at home seems to have really helped dial her in. Talking to reporters, she explained the shift in her approach.
Halep said: “I’ve been [in Dubai] almost three weeks. I have worked more professional than before. That’s why I left home, because I can keep focused on what I have to do every day, no days off.”
The second quarter-final was a different affair, a lot edgier – imagine playing chess with a couple of heavy artillery guns and you get a sense of the ball-striking in this match. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was bidding to get past the quarter-final stage of any Slam and was the first to make an impact, breaking before the first sit-down but Garbiñe Muguruza stayed focussed to break straight back, as the pair would exchange another set of breaks as the tussled for the lead.
With very little between them at all in the first set, it came down to fine margins, with Muguruza breaking for the first set. Again the Russian took the initiative first at the start of the second set, but again was pegged back straight away before a step up in gear and a break to love put Muguruza in the lead, and she held on to that advantage to book her first semi-final berth in Australia.
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While the women’s side will see a first time champion now, no matter what, a former champion Stan Wawrinka had come through a tough five setter in the previous round to put himself in the conversation alongside the Big Three and came out swinging.
Alexander Zverev has had to deal with a lot of expectation on young, bean-pole shoulders and for the first set, it looked as though his run this far without dropping a set was coming to a very abrupt end. His turn around in the next two sets was an exercise in patience and point construction.
He was the only one with a sniff of a break point in the second set, converting on his second try towards the end of the set and with a much improved serve (as it has been since the abysmal ATP Cup performances), he broke again at the start of the third set.
Wawrinka broke straight back but found himself struggling to get any kind of toe-hold against the rangy German for the rest of the set, broken and despite saving two set points, Zverev made good on his third try for a 2-1 lead.
The start of the fourth set was almost a mirror performance this time for Zverev as he jumped out to a 4-0 lead, and held on to his double-break cushion to book a spot for the first time in the Australian Open semi-finals.
Dominic Thiem  def. Rafael Nadal  7-6(3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(6)
The youngsters are coming, Part 2! After Zverev rallied from a dismal first set to win in four set, it was Dominic Thiem’s turn to face Rafael Nadal in Slam once more. Having taken a set off him in last year’s Roland Garros final, it was imperative that Thiem stuck with Nadal from the outset.
He was put under pressure immediately, having to save three break points in his first service game, before responding with the first break. Nadal saw a set point go as he worked to level the games and forced a tie-break which was edged by Thiem.
Nadal seemed edgy, more error strewn and although he went up a break it was Thiem’s turn to level up and hang on to force a second tie-break. This time it was Thiem very much in control and although Nadal won four points in a row to get on level terms, he was never ahead in the tie-break as Thiem went 2-0 up.
The third set was very competitive with the only breaks coming at the end for Nadal as Thiem’s level had just dipped a little bit. He made up for it in at the start of the force by breaking early. Could Nadal pull off as miraculous a comeback as Roger Federer had, to reach his semi-final? Hopes were high as Nadal broke for 5-5 and they headed for another tiebreak.
In much the same way as the first, mini-breaks were traded before Thiem started to pull away, winning a famous victory on his third match point.
Speaking to reporters after the match, Nadal said: “I think he’s playing great. He’s playing with a lot of energy, aggressive, determination. So well done for him. I honestly didn’t play a bad match, no, no. My attitude was great, I think, during the whole match. Good, positive, fighting spirit all the time, giving me more chances. That’s what I tried, no?”
Thiem will face fellow member of the chasing pack, Zverev and expectations (and narratives) are high that the old-guard might lose their stranglehold on the Slams.
Thiem said: “To really break a barrier, one young player has to win a slam. Yeah, one of us going to be in the finals. But it’s still a very long way to go. I mean, other semi-finals is still two of the big three. I think we are still a pretty long way from overtaking or from breaking this kind of barrier.”
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