Top seed Simona Halep staved off a spirited challenge from American youngster Sofia Kenin to prevail 6-3 6-7(5) 6-4 in the third round of the Australian Open on Thursday and set up a showdown with former world number one Venus Williams next.
The Romanian has struggled for form and fitness since her first-round defeat at the U.S. Open last August and came into the year’s first Grand Slam short of preparation after a back injury ended her 2018 season prematurely.
She broke the 20-year-old Kenin twice in the first set but the American fought back in the second set from 3-0 down to level it at 1-1 in the tiebreaker.
Halep then got the crucial break in the third set to go up 5-4 and converted her second match point for the victory in two hours and 31 minutes.
Halep, who was on a five-match losing streak before the Australian Open, set up a third-round meeting against multiple Grand Slam winner Williams, who beat Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 6-3 4-6 6-0.
Later, Serena Williams soundly beat Eugenie Bouchard 6-2 6-2, racing through the last five games to advance to the third round.
Easily beaten in the first set, the Canadian Bouchard, a former Wimbledon finalist who has been trying to retrieve her stellar form of five years ago, pressed early in the second to lead two games to one.
Williams responded in dominant fashion, however, and did not drop another game on her way to ending the match with a drive-volley winner.
The American is vying for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title, and will play Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska in the third round.