MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A revitalized Angelique Kerber stands as a huge roadblock to the maiden grand slam hopes of world number one Simona Halep and number two Caroline Wozniacki at the Australian Open women’s semi-finals at the Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.
Halep dropped only five games in her last eight clash against Karolina Pliskova on Wednesday to set up a meeting against Kerber, who swept away Madison Keys 6-1 6-2 to continue her stellar run in 2018.
Former world number one Wozniacki is the second seed in Melbourne and the 27-year-old Dane will be a strong favorite to reach the final against young Belgian Elise Mertens, who she beat in three sets in their only previous meeting.
Wozniacki, whose last semi-final appearance at a grand slam was at the 2016 U.S. Open, beat Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0 6-7(3) 6-2 in her quarter-final to remain on course for her first major title.
In the men’s section, former U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic will meet an unlikely opponent in Yorkshire man Kyle Edmund for a place in the final.
The unseeded Briton shocked third seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-4 in the quarter-finals while number six seed Cilic went through when injured world number one Rafa Nadal abandoned his match while trailing 3-6 6-3 6-7(5) 6-2 2-0.
It has been quite a return to form for Kerber in Australia this year after she broke a 27-tournament title drought going back to her 2016 U.S. Open triumph in the Sydney International warm-up and she has been flawless in the new year.
Kerber, who turned 30 last week, enjoyed a bumper 2016, winning the Australian and U.S. Opens, picking up an Olympic silver medal and becoming the first German number one since Steffi Graf.
But her form deserted her last year when she failed to win back-to-back matches at 13 events and made just one final, at Monterrey, to finish the year at number 22.
“I mean, it feels the same,” said Kerber, who is now guaranteed a return to top 10 in rankings. “I’m the same person like I was also last year.
“The years before, here, nothing (has) changed. I think the only thing has changed is that I learned a lot, a lot of experience from last year. From the years before, as well. Not only from 2016. Also 2014 and 2015.”
Wozniacki was top seed and world number one on her previous visit to the last four at Melbourne Park seven years ago when she blew a match point in the second set and went on to lose to China’s Li Na.
On the flip side, the Dane saved two match points and battled back from 5-1 down in the deciding set to beat Jana Fett in the second round this year.
Wozniacki has displayed a new brand of ruthless tennis when she battled to a maiden WTA Finals title last October in Singapore.
Her semi-final opponent Mertens has also had a stellar year and the 22-year-old, who became the first Belgian woman to make the semi-finals in Melbourne since her mentor Kim Clijsters in 2012, thrashed fourth seed Elina Svitolina 6-4 6-0 in the quarter-finals to show she is no pushover.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Christian Radnedge)