MELBOURNE: Romanian second seed Simona Halep won five consecutive games to come back from the brink to defeat local hope Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6 6-4 7-5 in an error-strewn match to advance to the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.
Twice Grand Slam winner Halep came into the match with a 3-0 career record against the 27-year-old Australian, ranked 72nd, but found it difficult to pave a way past Tomljanovic’s all-or-nothing approach in front of a boisterous Melbourne Court Arena.
Halep appeared set to join fellow Grand Slam winners Petra Kvitova, Venus Williams and Bianca Andreescu in exiting the year’s first major on Wednesday when Tomljanovic took a 5-2 lead in the deciding set.
But with just a game away from defeat, she started playing more freely and managed to find a way back into the match.
“It was an amazing match," Halep told reporters. “She played unbelievable. But I fought till the end. I never gave up, and that’s why maybe I could win in the end.
“Honestly I’m really happy and proud of what I did today on court, for the fight."
Both players went toe-to-toe from the start with some powerful hitting from the baseline but Tomljanovic punished Halep’s weak second serve and played a few delightful drop shots to wrest the opening set.
Halep cut down on her errors in the second to level the match at 1-1 before the Australian, buoyed by the support from the crowd, surged ahead in the decider.
Halep then staged a stunning comeback by winning the final five games and ended the contest by converting her second match point with a forehand winner, her 28th of the match.
Tomljanovic hit nine more winners than Halep but also had 20 more unforced errors than Halep’s 37 which ultimately proved to be the difference.
“She did exactly what I expected. She raised her level. Didn’t give me much till the end," a distraught Tomljanovic said. “It’s hard, very hard to talk about it right now and see any sort of positives."
The 2018 Melbourne Park finalist will take on Russian 32nd seed Veronika Kudermetova for a place in the fourth round.