Simona Halep clinched her 20th career WTA title and first of 2020 as she overcame Elena Rybakina to win the Dubai Tennis Championship in thrilling fashion.

World number two Halep had to come from a set down against Rybakina, who put in a wonderful display and came within a break of securing her second title of 2020.

But the 20-year-old ultimately fell short in a final-set tie-breaker as Halep triumphed 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5) after two hours and 29 minutes on Saturday.

Halep, a Dubai champion in 2015, saved a break point in just the second game of the match but could not keep Rybakina at bay when the next opportunity came, going long in the sixth to fall behind.

Rybakina saw off two late openings to claim the set, only for Halep to make a brilliant start to the second and soon secure a trio of opportunities, breaking to love when Rybakina failed to pick out the left corner of the court.

Halep was made to work to consolidate the break but then had another two break points in the next game.

However, she passed up both opportunities, allowing Rybakina to roar back and break to love, with Halep signalling for her coach after going wide at the end of the rally.

Halep got the motivation she needed and chances came thick and fast in a mammoth game, which she eventually claimed en route to levelling the match when Rybakina slowed and a fourth break point was taken.

Momentum in the decider similarly swung back and forth, with Rybakina in control when Halep double-faulted before that advantage was immediately cancelled out.

A stunning volley put Rybakina 5-4 up, but Halep rallied to hold serve before breaking in the next game to take a 6-5 lead.

Yet Rybakina was not beaten and, at the second attempt, broke serve to force the tie-break.

Rybakina squandered the chance to take a 6-4 lead in the tie-break on her own serve, though, and Halep duly took advantage, with an overhit return handing the Romanian her second triumph in Dubai.

Simona Halep cruised into her first final of the year after a devastating 6-2 6-0 semi-final defeat of American qualifier Jennifer Brady at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Top seed Halep came through a testing quarter-final with Aryna Sabalenka, but her last-four match was significantly more straightforward on Friday.

Halep blitzed through the encounter in just 62 minutes, the 2015 champion appearing way more at ease than in the pair's first-round clash at the Australian Open in January, when Brady succumbed 7-6 (7-5) 6-1.

World number two and two-time grand slam champion Halep faced only two break points in the entire match and she saved both, while she also hit 16 winners to eight unforced errors in a performance she felt was almost perfect.

"It's fun when you feel the ball and when you can do anything you want," Halep said. "Today it was one of those days, I could open the court easily. I felt like every time I hit the ball, I feel it.

"It's always a nice opportunity and privilege to play the last match of the tournament. I play for another trophy, so I'm relaxed. I'm focused. I really want it."

Elena Rybakina will be Halep's next opponent, with the Kazakh securing progress to a fourth final already this year.

Rybakina showed her resilience to come through a gripping duel with eighth seed Petra Martic, saving set points in both sets before eventually winning 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-2).

The 20-year-old has already beaten Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and former world number one Karolina Pliskova in Dubai, and now she is aiming for the biggest scalp of the lot – and Halep knows she will need to be aggressive to upset the upstart's rise.

"It's amazing what [Rybakina's] done already this year," Halep added. "I saw her a little bit during some matches.

"She has a big serve. I have to pay attention on my return and to be like today: confident, aggressive if there is a chance, just fighting. It's the best thing to do now."

Simona Halep survived a scare against Aryna Sabalenka as she fought back from a set down to progress into the Dubai Tennis Championships semi-finals.

Halep, appearing for the first time since a run to the last four at the Australian Open, lost to Sabalenka in their most recent meeting - in Adelaide in January - but had won her prior two encounters with the world number 13.

Despite trailing in the first set, the world number two rallied in the second thanks to three breaks of serve, before cruising in the decider to wrap up a 3-6 6-2 6-2 win over her Belarusian opponent.

The Romanian, a Dubai champion in 2015, will now go up against Jennifer Brady, whose run of upsets continued as she overcame Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza to claim her third straight top-20 triumph.

Having already knocked out third seed Elina Svitolina and Marketa Vondrousova in previous rounds, Brady moved into the semis with a 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-4 win.

It is the first time in Brady's career that the American has made it into the last four of a WTA Premier event, though she was not fully satisfied with her performance.

"I wasn't feeling my best," she said in quotes reported by the WTA's official website. "Maybe I didn't play my best tennis, but I just found a way to stay in there, compete and come out on top."

The other semi-final will see Elena Rybakina, whose fine run continued with a win over Karolina Pliskova, meet Petra Martic.

Dubai debutant Rybakina has started 2020 in fine form and dispatched world number three Pliskova on Thursday, completing a 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 success in one hour and 41 minutes.

It means Rybakina has made her fourth semi-final in five tournaments so far this year, with a tie against Martic - who beat Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 - her reward.

Top seed Simona Halep saved a match point in a gripping battle with Ons Jabeur before sealing her place in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Halep was on the brink of a surprise defeat to the in-form world number 45, but hung in there to win a thriller 1-6 6-2 7-6 (9-7) on Wednesday.

The two-time grand slam champion and Jabeur were given great backing from passionate Romanian and Tunisian supporters in a pulsating contest that swung one way and the other.

Halep appeared destined to complete the turnaround with ease when she led 3-0 in the final set, but the tenacious Jabeur was relishing the battle and showed great spirit to take the upper hand at 6-5.

The unseeded Jabeur was broken to love when serving for the match, though, and a double-fault gifted 2015 champion Halep a 4-2 lead in the tie-break, yet there was more drama to come.

Jabeur fended off three match points to earn one of her own, but Halep showed her grit to win the next two points before her gutsy opponent drilled a forehand long to end a tense two-hour contest.

Halep will face Aryna Sabalenka in the last eight after the seventh seed defeated Elise Mertens 6-4 6-3.

Australian Open runner-up Garbine Muguruza advanced with a hard-fought Veronika Kudermetova, winning 7-5 4-6 6-4 two days after knocking out the returning Kim Clijsters.

Elena Rybakina, a three-time finalist this year, got the better of Katerina Siniakova for the second successive week, a 6-3, 6-3 victory setting up a meeting with Karolina Pliskova.

Second seed Pliskova lost just three games in emphatic defeat of Kristina Mladenovic, while Petra Martic, Jennifer Brady and Anett Kontaveit were also victorious.

Simona Halep said the heat "killed" her as she surrendered to the sizzling game of Garbine Muguruza in their Australian Open semi-final.

With temperatures reaching the mid-30s at Melbourne Park, conditions were distinctly uncomfortable for both players on Rod Laver Arena.

The unseeded Muguruza prevailed in a gruelling battle, her 7-6 (10-8) 7-5 success setting up a final showdown against Sofia Kenin on Saturday.

Halep was in charge of each set until being reeled in both times by Muguruza, whose performances had dipped since winning Wimbledon and the French Open earlier in her career.

That grand slam title-winning form was back as Halep, who has also triumphed at the grass-court and clay-court slams, was edged out of the tournament.

"It was very, very hot today and I felt it," Halep said. "It killed me after the first set, in the end of the first set. The sun was strong. I didn't like that much to play in this weather."

Conditions were fractionally below the point on the tournament's heat stress scale at which the roof would have been automatically closed on the stadium court.

"I would love to see the roof closed. But rules are rules. We have to accept it," Halep said.

"The level of energy went down a little bit, and I felt it in the legs. I was not used to it in the last two weeks, we didn't have that much heat. And today I felt the sun a little bit too much. It was not 100 per cent right for me, but it is how it is."

With Australian favourite Ash Barty ousted in the first semi-final, it will be a surprising line-up in the title match.

Romanian Halep said defeat left her "in pain", given the control she held at different stages in the match.

"But life goes on," she said. "I think maybe I could be a little bit more brave in the points that were important. I didn't do that."

Muguruza looked like a player who might dominate the women's tour when she took the 2017 Wimbledon title in some style.

She reached number one in the WTA rankings later that year, but has dropped outside the top 30 since.

"If she can play every day like this, she can be number one, for sure," Halep said. "But it's tough to do that."

Halep knows, having spent 64 weeks at the summit.

"Consistency on tour, it's the most important thing and the toughest one," Halep added. "She's a great champion. She knows how to win grand slams, how to win titles."

Garbine Muguruza advanced to her first Australian Open final after the former world number one outlasted 2018 runner-up Simona Halep in Melbourne on Thursday.

After struggling following her 2017 Wimbledon triumph, Spanish star Muguruza has looked like a player reborn since reuniting with former coach Conchita Martinez. 

Muguruza - who split from Martinez two years ago - continued her fine form after upstaging fourth seed Halep 7-6 (10-8) 7-5 in oppressive heat at Melbourne Park.

Unseeded for the first time at a slam since the 2014 French Open, two-time major champion Muguruza will meet 14th seed Sofia Kenin in Saturday's final.

With the Rod Laver Arena roof open, despite the scorching conditions as the heat stress scale sat just below the required five to trigger a suspension of play and roof closure, Muguruza and Halep slogged it out from the baseline.

Muguruza clinched the first break in the seventh game and had the chance to serve out the set at 5-4, but Halep reeled off three straight games to force a tie-break.

The tie-break was a rollercoaster as Muguruza went from leading 3-0 to trailing 4-3, while the pair both had set points before the former won a 20-shot rally to eventually close it out.

It was the first time Halep, who was hospitalised due to dehydration following a gruelling showdown against Caroline Wozniacki in the 2018 Australian Open final as tournament organisers were criticised for not closing the roof in hot weather, had dropped a set at this year's event.

Clearly frustrated after losing the set, Halep regrouped and broke Muguruza to take a 2-1 lead, only to hand it straight back as the pair exchanged three consecutive breaks.

Halep had the chance to level the match at 5-4, but just like Muguruza in the first set, failed to do so as the latter broke at the fourth time of asking.

It opened the door for Muguruza, who won four successive games as Halep fell at the semi-final stage of a major for the first time since the 2015 US Open.

 

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN 
Muguruza bt Halep [4] 7-6 (10-8) 7-5

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS   
Muguruza – 39/44
Halep – 20/23

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS   
Muguruza – 10/2
Halep – 2/1

BREAK POINTS WON  
Muguruza – 4/14
Halep – 3/13

FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE  
Muguruza – 59
Halep – 72

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE  
Muguruza – 71/42
Halep – 62/44

TOTAL POINTS  
Muguruza – 90
Halep – 87

Simona Halep said she is "more confident" thanks to the experience of winning two grand slams as the in-form former world number one looks to add the Australian Open title to her growing collection.    

Halep is flying high in Melbourne following Wednesday's quarter-final demolition of Anett Kontaveit - the former French Open and Wimbledon winner claiming a 6-1 6-1 victory in just 53 minutes.

Yet to drop a set at Melbourne Park, Halep was beaten in the 2018 Australian Open final against Caroline Wozniacki but the Romanian star is on track to go one step further this year.

Halep – who ended her wait for a maiden major at the 2018 French Open following three losing slam finals – was asked if it feels easier to win now and the fourth seed told reporters: "It's different in my mind. It's not easier at all. 

"You still feel the pressure. You still feel the heaviness of this tournament.

"I just feel more confident and I feel like I'm able to do it. It's just a feeling that you don't see this trophy is impossible anymore. This is what I'm feeling about the grand slams now."

Halep added: "Any grand slam, it's a priority. I will not just choose one. But, of course, it's going to be great if I will be able to win one on hard court."

It was a devastating display from Halep on Rod Laver Arena, where the fourth seed reeled off 11 consecutive games to blitz her Estonian opponent under the bright Melbourne sun.

Kontaveit was powerless to stop the onslaught as Halep looks ahead to a semi-final against fellow two-time slam champion and former world number one, Garbine Muguruza.

"Perfection doesn't exist, but I'm very happy with the way I played. I felt great on court," Halep said. "I was moving great. I felt the ball, like, really, really good. It was a great match."

Simona Halep raced through to her second Australian Open semi-final after mercilessly blitzing Anett Kontaveit in straight sets on Wednesday.

Former world number one Halep dismantled 28th seed Kontaveit 6-1 6-1 in just 53 minutes on Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park.

A two-time grand slam champion, Halep barely raised a sweat as the fourth seed reeled off 11 consecutive games before the helpless Kontaveit finally halted the slide at 5-0 in the second set, but it was too little too late.

Halep – the 2018 runner-up – will face either Garbine Muguruza or Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a spot in her second Australian Open final.

Kontaveit was attempting to become the first Estonian to reach a slam semi-final after beating Astra Sharma, Sara Sorribes Tormo, Belinda Bencic and Iga Swiatek en route to the final eight.

But she was no match for Romanian star Halep, who is yet to drop a set at this year's major in Melbourne.

A battle from the baseline, Kontaveit held her own early but she was quickly put to the sword as Halep broke in the third game and never looked back.

Kontaveit, who initially dug herself out of a 0-40 hole in the fifth game as Halep broke at the fifth opportunity, faded quickly without a trace.

Halep continued where she left off in the second set, racing out to a devastating 5-0 lead in front of a stunned crowd.

Kontaveit stopped the rot to hold serve, though Halep – who has never dropped a set against the Estonian – served out the second set in just 24 minutes.

 

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN 
Halep [4] bt Kontaveit [28] 6-1 6-1

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS   
Halep – 12/10
Kontaveit – 15/15

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS   
Halep – 5/1
Kontaveit – 0/0

BREAK POINTS WON  
Halep – 5/11
Kontaveit – 0/1

FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE  
Halep – 78
Kontaveit – 66

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE  
Halep – 78/44
Kontaveit – 48/44

TOTAL POINTS  
Halep – 54
Kontaveit – 34

Simona Halep continued her imperious form at the Australian Open as she secured a quarter-final spot at the expense of Elise Mertens.

Yet to drop a set at these finals, the fourth seed produced another commanding performance to book a meeting with Anett Kontaveit.

Garbine Muguruza felled another seed, Kiki Bertens beaten in just 69 minutes by the Spaniard, as she reached the last eight in Melbourne for only the second time.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also progressed after a tense battle with 2016 champion Angelique Kerber.

 

KONTAVEIT WINS EPIC TO EARN HALEP SHOWDOWN

Beaten in their previous meeting in Doha last February, Halep had to work hard for a 6-4 6-4 victory over Mertens as she reached the quarter-finals in Australia for the fourth time.

After Mertens recovered from a 3-1 deficit to lead 4-3, Halep went on a six-game winning streak to take the opening set and move 3-0 up in the second.

Mertens rallied again to recover a double break, but Halep battled to move 5-4 ahead before serving out to love.

"Mentally, I think I did a great job today at four-all with those break points, game points," she said. "But in the end, I got the game and then I served very well the last game. I feel like I played a better match than all the matches since I'm here."

Halep now faces Kontaveit, who came through a punishing three-set clash against Polish teenager Iga Swiatek.

Kontaveit recovered to win 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 7-5 to become the first Estonian to reach the quarter-finals of a major.

MUGURUZA POWERS PAST BERTENS 

Muguruza claimed back-to-back wins over top-10 players by beating Bertens 6-3 6-3 to reach a grand slam quarter-final for the first time since the 2018 French Open.

The 26-year-old, who knocked out world number five Elina Svitolina in round three, has an eye on the big prize already after showing too much power for ninth-seed Bertens, hitting 19 winners and six aces. 

"It is very good to be back here," she said. "It is one of the grand slams that one day I would like to win. It's exciting." 

Next for Muguruza will be Pavlyuchenkova, who triumphed 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 over Kerber in two hours and 41 minutes. 

Having lost the first set after surrendering a double break, the Russian fought back to edge a tight second with a thumping return winner on her fifth set point.

The third set was more one-sided as Pavlyuchenkova moved 5-2 up and serving out the match with an ace.

Simona Halep believes the run to the Australian Open last 16 by Coco Gauff is a "great thing" for tennis and expects the 15-year-old to win a grand slam "soon".

Gauff stunned defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round to match her best career performance at a major, which she previously achieved at Wimbledon.

The American was knocked out by eventual tournament winner Halep in the fourth round at the All England Club.

Both players are in contention for glory in Melbourne after the fourth seed joined the teenager in round four with a 6-1 6-4 win over Yulia Putintseva on Saturday.

Halep was asked about the contrast in women's tennis between Gauff thriving at 15 and Caroline Wozniacki retiring at 29 at a time 38-year-old Serena Williams is soon to be re-joined by another veteran in Kim Clijsters.

"Well, it's kind of a big mix here with the 15-year-old that is winning matches in a grand slam and makes it look easy," said the 28-year-old.

"And a 29-year-old retiring, so I'm very close but, yes, I hope not yet! But also we have a 38-year-old still playing, Serena. Everyone has their own feelings about this sport. 

"What Coco Gauff is doing in this moment is a great thing. I'm sure that she gets a lot of confidence, and soon she will be able to win one of these big tournaments.

"And about Kim it's really nice to hear that she's coming back. I played once against her and I lost. 

"Maybe I will have another chance to play against her, because actually, she was a model for me growing up, so I look forward to see her back on tour."

Gauff will meet compatriot Sofia Kenin in the last 16 while two-time grand slam winner Halep takes on Elise Mertens.

Osaka has discussed the pressures of returning to the top events as a major champion but Halep feels her previous successes at the French Open and Wimbledon give her an advantage.

Halep said: "It was different because I played few finals before and actually I felt that it's really tough to get one. 

"After I did it, I felt like, okay, it's really tough but it's possible. Everything is possible.

"So maybe I relaxed a little bit more and I don't see that these tournaments are so out of reach anymore. So I feel more confident."

And Halep insisted seeing Williams, Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Belinda Bencic crash out in the early stages does not make her worried about being the next victim of an upset.

"I hope not," she said. "I just take the responsibility on my game, and I have expectations for myself, but I know that everything can happen. So I'm ready to fight for every match I play. 

"I know at this level everything can happen, so that's why sometimes I'm a little bit stressed, sometimes I'm relaxed.

"It's just a tournament, and I'm sure that for you guys it's a little bit of shock when the top-10 players are losing, but it's life and we cannot be 100 per cent every day. So we go ahead, and if I'm still in the tournament, it's a good thing."

Second seed Karolina Pliskova and fifth seed Elina Svitolina were high-profile casualties in the third round of the Australian Open on Saturday.

Pliskova fell to a straight-sets defeat to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Svitolina was soundly beaten by two-time grand slam champion Garbine Muguruza.

Belinda Bencic and Donna Vekic were also sent packing, losing to Anett Kontaveit and Iga Swiatek respectively.

There was no sign of a slip-up from former world number one Simona Halep, however, as she made serene progress to the next round by easing past Yulia Putintseva.

 

PLISKOVA, SVITOLINA CRASH OUT

After defending champion Naomi Osaka and 23-time grand slam winner Serena Williams were eliminated on Friday, Pliskova joined the star duo in dropping out of the tournament.

Pliskova went down 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-3) to 30th seed Pavlyuchenkova in the first match on Rod Laver Arena on Saturday.

"I think she was playing very well. Maybe the best she played against me so far in the last couple matches," Pliskova told reporters. "But let's say I was [at] about 40 per cent of my game, so of course then she can feel so much better if I just don't play enough [of] what I can play. 

"That's how it is. I think especially [in] the important moments she always served well so I had a couple chances here and there. But I think she just played better than me."

Svitolina did not fare much better as she lost to Muguruza in 67 minutes, the Spaniard - now ranked 32 in the world - hitting 31 winners to advance 6-1 6-2.

 

BENCIC, VEKIC SENT PACKING

It was another tough day for seeds as Bencic (6) and Vekic (19) failed to progress beyond the third round in Melbourne.

US Open semi-finalist Bencic was swept aside in just 49 minutes, humbled 6-0 6-1 by 28th seed Kontaveit on Margaret Court Arena.

"I think every grand slam there are seeded players losing, so I think this grand slam was even the best because no top-10 player lost in first round," she said in a news conference. "It's the same at every grand slam. There are upsets, and I think it's normal, because it's tennis, and tennis is very unpredictable."

Kontaveit will face Swiatek after the 18-year-old stunned Vekic 7-5 6-3.

 

HALEP, KERBER MOVE ON

Halep thwarted in-form Putintseva 6-1 6-4 to move through to the second week of the slam for a third consecutive year.

Fourth seed Halep - runner-up in Melbourne two years ago - needed one hour, 18 minutes to progress to the fourth round.

Away from Rod Laver Arena, 2016 champion Angelique Kerber ground out a 6-2 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 victory over Italian Camila Giorgi.

Kerber was pushed but the three-time major winner clinched a spot in the fourth round for the fifth successive season after two hours, eight minutes.

 

MERTENS AND BERTENS ADVANCE

Next up for Halep is 16th seed Elise Mertens, who required three sets to overcome CiCi Bellis.

Mertens was two points from victory in the second set after taking a 5-4 lead in the tiebreak but failed to close it out. However, she managed to keep her run alive by reeling off the next six games in succession.

The 2018 semi-finalist breezed through the final set to wrap up a 6-1 6-7 (5-7) 6-0 victory in just under two hours.

Joining Mertens in the next round was Dutch ninth seed Kiki Bertens, who made the second week of the Australian Open for the first time.

Bertens claimed a 6-2 7-6 (7-3) victory over Zarina Diyas and has a meeting with Svitolina's conqueror Muguruza to look forward to.

Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova and Angelique Kerber claimed comfortable second-round wins at the Australian Open as Garbine Muguruza survived a scare on Thursday.

It was a good day for the women's seeds at Melbourne Park, as 10 of the 12 in action moved into the third round.

Halep, Pliskova and Kerber were among them, while the unseeded Muguruza also progressed.

The top 10 seeds remain alive in the women's draw, with a few familiar faces shaping as contenders once more.

 

HALEP, PLISKOVA AND KERBER PROGRESS

A runner-up in Melbourne in 2018, fourth seed Halep was largely untroubled in a 6-2 6-4 win over British qualifier Harriet Dart.

The Romanian managed five breaks of serve and will meet Yulia Putintseva, who edged last year's semi-finalist Danielle Collins, scoring a 6-4 2-6 7-5 win against the 26th seed.

Pliskova has reached at least the quarter-finals at the past three Australian Opens and the Czech second seed looks like a challenger.

She had few problems in a 6-3 6-3 victory over Laura Siegemund on Rod Laver Arena.

Pliskova will next face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova after the Russian 30th seed battled past Taylor Townsend 7-5 7-6 (7-1).

Kerber, the 2016 champion, was untroubled by Australian wildcard Priscilla Hon in a 6-3 6-2 win.

MUGURUZA FIGHTS THROUGH

Two-time grand slam champion Muguruza was pushed in a 6-3 3-6 6-3 win over Ajla Tomljanovic.

Muguruza mixed 34 winners with 39 unforced errors, but an even bigger test awaits in the third round.

FIfth seed Elina Svitolina set up a meeting with Muguruza by overcoming American Lauren Davis 6-2 7-6 (8-6).

That late-night clash on Margaret Court Arena became dramatic in the second set as Svitolina failed to seize a chance to serve for the match, Davis forcing the tense tie-break.

 

BENCIC, VEKIC CONTINUE RUNS

Coming off a semi-final appearance at the US Open last year, Belinda Bencic overcame former French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 7-5 7-5.

The Swiss star will meet Anett Kontaveit, who recorded a 6-2 4-6 6-1 win over Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Donna Vekic, the 19th seed, has cruised through her opening two matches after brushing past Alize Cornet 6-4 6-2.

Meanwhile, Dutch ninth seed Kiki Bertens was too good for Australian wildcard Arina Rodionova 6-3 7-5.

Karolina Muchova, the 20th-seeded Czech, was well beaten by CiCi Bellis 6-4 6-4.

Twenty-year-old American Bellis is playing her first grand slam in two years after injury kept her out of action for 18 months.

Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova came through their first-round matches at the Australian Open, as Maria Sharapova suffered an early exit in the women's singles.

Fourth seed Halep was handed a testing opener against Jennifer Brady, who had beaten Ash Barty at the Brisbane International this month.

But the Romanian prevailed 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 in one hour and 36 minutes to join home hope Barty, defending champion Naomi Osaka and tournament favourite Serena Williams in round two.

An up-and-down first set was crucial, as Halep twice recovered from a break down and saved three set points while Brady was serving at 6-5.

Halep found a way to force a tie-break and then edged it 7-5 before running away with the contest in the second set.

Wimbledon champion Halep also had to overcome a first-set fall that required the trainer to check on her wrist and joked she had also stumbled in her first match of the 2018 tournament, when she made it all the way to the final.

"In 2018 it was the same, probably I can repeat that!" said Halep.

"I don't know why in the first round always I fall down. Maybe it's a good sign but it's too far to think about that.

"My wrist is pretty painful. I need to chill and recover for the second round."

Second seed Pliskova earned a 6-1 7-5 victory over Kristina Mladenovic, losing serve just once in the 87-minute battle. The Czech faces Laura Siegemund next, while Halep will take on Harriet Dart.


TOP 10 ALL THROUGH AS SHARAPOVA'S WOES CONTINUE

Sharapova suffered her third consecutive loss in the first round of a grand slam following a 6-3 6-4 defeat against 19th seed Donna Vekic as the former world number one hit 31 unforced errors.

A first-round casualty at Wimbledon and the US Open, Sharapova - who has been struggling for form and fitness - crashed out in the first round of the Australian Open for the first time since 2010.

Sixth seed Belinda Bencic won 6-3 7-5 against Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, while Madison Keys was a 6-3 6-1 victor against Daria Kasatkina, as all of the top 10 seeds moved safely into round two.

Elina Svitolina claimed a 6-4 7-5 victory in her match against Katie Boulter, while former grand slam champions Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza were winners against Elisabetta Cocciaretto and Shelby Rogers respectively. Muguruza won by an unusual 0-6 6-1 6-0 scoreline.


KONTA AND VONDROUSOVA BOW OUT

Johanna Konta, Marketa Vondrousova, Amanda Anisimova and Anastasija Sevastova were the seeds to fall on day two.

An Australian Open semi-finalist in 2016, British 12th seed Konta suffered a 6-4 6-2 loss to Ons Jabeur.

On the comeback trail following a tendinitis-related problem in her right knee, which forced her to withdraw from Brisbane and Adelaide, Konta was only making her second appearance since losing in the US Open quarter-finals last year.

Konta said: "Ultimately the main thing was to start playing again, and I am. How I physically felt out there is obviously a massive tick for me compared to where I was in September. Before Brisbane I had been out for almost four-and-a-half months."

Czech Vondrousova, the 15th seed and French Open finalist last year, lost in three sets to Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Another rising star fell as 18-year-old American Anisimova lost out in a final set to Zarina Diyas, while home hope Ajla Tomljanovic emphatically accounted for Sevastova with a 6-1 6-1 triumph to book a round-two meeting with Muguruza.

Garbine Muguruza hopes to be fit for the Australian Open after withdrawing from the Hobart International due to a viral illness.

Former world number one Muguruza withdrew from her quarter-final against Veronika Kudermetova on Thursday.

The two-time grand slam winner is scheduled to face a qualifier in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday. She is in the same quarter of the draw as Karolina Pliskova, Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber.

Muguruza tweeted: "I'm sorry I could not play today. I've had a fever for several days and this morning my body said 'enough'.

"I'll rest today and hope to travel to Melbourne tomorrow. I hope to be able to play [the Australian Open].

"I want to thank all the fans in Hobart for their support and love. I hope to return soon."

Heather Watson beat top seed Elise Mertens 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 7-5 to reach the semi-finals, while Kudermetova will take on Zhang Shuai.

At the Adelaide international Simona Halep suffered a 6-3 6-2 quarter-final loss to Aryna Sabalenka.

Second seed Halep lasted just one hour and nine minutes against Sabalenka, who reeled off seven straight games to take the first set and move 5-0 up in the second.

The Wimbledon champion won the next two games but was unable to hold serve to stay in the match.

Sabalenka will take on Dayana Yastremska, who beat Donna Vekic 6-4 6-3, in the semi-finals.

Top seed Ash Barty repeated her French Open final victory over Marketa Vondrousova to reach the final four in Adelaide.

Barty hit 20 winners and saved six of seven break points to secure a 6-3 6-3 triumph and advance to a meeting with Danielle Collins after the American overcame Belinda Bencic 6-3 6-1.

Three-time grand slam winner Angelique Kerber suffered a back injury that forced her to withdraw from the Adelaide International on Wednesday with the Australian Open just around the corner.

Kerber, who won the Australian Open in 2016, had lost the first set to Dayana Yastremska 6-3 and was a break down in the second when she required on-court medical assistance.

After being put through a series of stretches, the former world number one decided she was unable to carry on and retired, allowing Yastremska to reach the last eight of the competition, where she will meet Donna Vekic after her 2-6 7-5 6-1 win over Maria Sakkari.

The most impressive win of the day belonged to Marketa Vondrousova, however, as last year's French Open runner-up claimed a stunning 6-0 6-0 victory over home hope Arina Rodionova, setting up a meeting with another Aussie in the quarters – world number one Ash Barty.

Vondrousova, 20, is taking part in her first tournament since Wimbledon after undergoing wrist surgery in September and will be out for revenge against Barty, who beat her at Roland Garros in June.

Fourth seed Belinda Bencic came through a tight tussle with Julia Goerges to emerge a 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4) victor, with her last-eight opponent Danielle Collins having significantly less difficulty against fellow American Sofia Kenin – the unseeded 26-year-old winning 6-3 6-1.

The fourth quarter-final will see Aryna Sabalenka go head-to-head with Simona Halep, after the Belarussian sixth seed eliminated Bernarda Pera 7-6 (7-4) 6-2.

Elise Mertens remains on course for a third Hobart International title after the top seed dropped single game in her 6-1 6-0 defeat of Viktoria Kuzmova, setting up a quarter-final with Great Britain's Heather Watson, a 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 winner against Fiona Ferro.

Aussie wildcard Lizette Cabrera claimed a 4-6 6-4 6-4 upset over Kristyna Pliskova, while second seed Garbine Muguruza edged past Ons Jabeur 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) and will face Veronika Kudermetova.

Shuai Zhang, Lauren Davis and Elena Rybakina are also into the quarter-finals following respective triumphs over Kateryna Kozlova, Magda Linette and Alize Cornet on Wednesday.

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