Halep and Kontaveit set up Australian Open quarter-final

andrew hendrie /

Simona Halep has advanced into the Australian Open quarter-finals for the fourth time after beating Elise Mertens in straight sets on Monday.

A runner-up at the Australian Open two years ago, Halep joined World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty as the only top four seeds in the last eight as she downed former semi-finalist Mertens by a 6-4 6-4 scoreline on Rod Laver Arena.

The pair were evenly matched at the start of the contest, but Halep broke away and seized the momentum during a six-game streak from the end of the first set to midway through the second.

Although Mertens – who beat Halep in their last clash in the Doha final in 2019 – staged a comeback and managed to retrieve the double break deficit in the second set to level for 4-4, Halep wasn’t to be denied as she swiftly regained her composure to break and hold for the match, stamping her ticket to the quarter-finals.

Halep’s sublime counterpunching forced Mertens to be unusually aggressive, and despite the Belgian posting solid numbers of 36 winners to 38 unforced errors, Halep’s reliable brand of tennis – that yielded 21 winners to just eight errors – proved triumphant.

“I got a little bit nervous at 4-3 but I was strong enough to win the match,” Halep said in her on-court interview.

“I had to calm down myself because when I get a little bit nervous I get crazy on court. So I had to stay cool.”

Admitting that frustrations almost got the best of her, the mini-outbursts are a positive at the Australian Open this year, with Halep pledging to donate money every time she directs negative energy towards coach Darren Cahill and her box.

Halep said Cahill had been keeping count all tournament.

“I think I have been worse a little bit but it is for a good cause,” Halep joked.

“So I go for it and I’m allowed to do anything I want. So I feel for the first time I feel happy on court.”

Anett Kontaveit (AAP Image/Michael Dodge)

Halep will next face 28th seed Anett Kontaveit after the Estonian reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final with a come-from-behind win over rising 18-year-old Iga Swiatek.

Kontaveit rallied from dropping the opening set and withstood the disappointment of wasting a 5-1 lead in the decider, regrouping and keeping her composure to prevail 6-7(4) 7-5 7-5, becoming the first woman from Estonia to make the quarter-finals in Melbourne.

“It was such a battle today, but I’m so happy that I toughed it out,” Kontaveit said during her on-court interview.

“I’m so happy to be in the quarter-finals [of a Grand Slam] for the first time. I think I’m still shaking.”

Halep has won both of their previous encounters in straight sets, but they haven’t played since 2017.