By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – 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.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)