MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Simona Halep joked that she was "almost dead" after her 4-6 victory, 6-4, 15-13 over Lauren Davis in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday, an exhausting game of 3 hours and 45 minutes that featured countless energy gusts and amazing 38 break points.
But what Halep said made her pass the game was not her legs, it was her head.
This is a big change for a player who has sometimes weakened under pressure.
"Fo I am sure that I am mentally stronger, and I could resist as (that) in every moment of the game," Halep said. "That makes me very happy, and I think the great victory is that I could handle it."
No. Halep, number 1, has won 15 titles in her career and is a perennial contender in the majors, but has never won a Grand Slam. In the final of the French Open last year against Jelena Ostapenko, Halep raised a set and 3-0 and still lost.
Against Davis, however, Halep maintained his nervousness while the third set was developing and his 24 years. the old opponent seemed to be gaining confidence.
The critical moment came when she was serving 10-11 and was down 0-40, facing three match points. Halep remained serene and saved them all: it is the first time he returns from the triple starting point in his career.
The 26-year-old Romanian also did not lose much after losing the chance to take Davis. She squandered four break points in 8-all, then another five break points in 11-all, before finally turning to take a crucial 14-13 lead and serve it.
The match matched the longest in the women's draw at the Australian Open in terms of games played – Chanda Rubin's victory over Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in 1996 was also 48 games – but it was almost an hour shorter than the record of 4:44 that Francesca Schiavone needed to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2011.  If this kind of match had happened a year or two ago, admitted Halep, it is possible that he has not won it.
"It's much better if we compare old Simona with the new Simona," he said. "I'm just trying to change so I do not think too much about the points."
The other challenge was also to play against an opponent like Davis, who is equally short in stature and plays a mirror game. Like Halep, Davis depends on speed and footwork to compensate for his lack of power. And both women are rival competitors, stubbornly chasing every ball that comes their way.
"I think today he played at the highest level in tennis," said Halep. "And his backhand was too good at times."
Davis, who at 5 feet 2 inches (1.57 meters) is the shortest woman among the top 100, was also surprised herself. She has been ranked as high as No. 26, but has never advanced beyond the third round in a major race.
However, playing such a tough match against Halep showed Davis how competitive it could be.
"We were both fighting with the heart," he said. "I got to the point where I was so tired that I told myself that I should swing and move, and, for the most part, it was very effective."
It was also effective for Halep.
"I think in the past I would not have fought so hard," he said. "It does not matter what's going to happen now, I say it's a big gain in many ways, and I take it."
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