A courageous Simona Halep overcame three match points and throbbing ankle pain to edge out Lauren Davis 4-6 6-4 15-13 in a thrilling third round marathon at the Australian Open on Saturday.
The world number one fought back from the brink at 11-10 in the epic deciding set before finally serving out the contest on her fourth attempt after a taxing three hours and 44 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.
She sealed the win on her first match point when 76th-ranked Davis fired a forehand into the tramlines, as the hard-hitting American coughed up a mind-boggling 73rd unforced error.
A shattered Halep declared herself “almost dead” in the wake of a 142-minute deciding set featuring more twists than the Transfagarasan mountain highway in her native Romania.
It was a win, said the French Open finalist, that might have slipped through her fingers in years past.
“I think now I’m much stronger (mentally),” the 26-year-old told reporters. “I was a little bit frustrated because of the leg. I felt the pain all match, but I didn’t give up.
“I could resist like for every moment in the match. That makes me very happy, and I think the big win is that I could handle it.”
While consistently haunting the women’s top five, a grand slam title has proven elusive for Halep, fanning doubts about her big match temperament.
But her brave effort against an inspired opponent can only help her self-belief for bigger tests to come.
The ankle remains a problem, though, and Halep said she would do precisely “nothing” on her rest day before a fourth round clash against home hope Ashleigh Barty or Japan’s Naomi Osaka.
“After this match I think tomorrow (the ankle) is going to be worse, but I just push, push myself, and we will see what’s going to happen,” said Halep, a quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2014 and 2015.