World number two Simona Halep continued her preparations for next week’s Australian Open by booking a semi-final berth at the Sydney International with a gritty straight-sets win over Karolina Pliskova on Wednesday.
The Romanian withdrew from the Brisbane International last week because of a nagging Achilles injury, which also affected her 2015 campaign, and played through pain on Tuesday night in her second-round match against Caroline Garcia of France.
Pliskova did not make it any easier for Halep, twice the Czech fighting back before the top seed won 6-4 7-5 to set up a last-four clash against Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The Czech player rallied from 5-1 down in the first set and in the second set made it 4-4 from 4-2 down before the 24-year-old Halep prevailed.
“It was tough today. It was very close,” Halep told reporters. “I was leading in the first set, 5-1, but she came back really strong.
“I know she’s been playing tough, she’s playing well and she’s strong with her serve, and I expected she was going to hit the balls well today.
“I did well to stay focused in the last few games of the second set, and that I could finish it in two sets.
“The weather was pretty warm and it was tough for me to handle it out there today.”
Kuznetsova made a slow start in her match against Italian Sara Errani and fell 5-1 down in the first set before fighting back to win 7-6(1) 6-0.
“I know her pretty well,” Halep said of her semi-final opponent. “I’ve played against her and I know she plays a lot of topspin, so it’s a different type of player tomorrow — a different style.
“But I like to play against her. I have had good matches with her before and I expect another tough one — of course every match is tough.”
Australia’s Samantha Stosur suffered a setback in her preparations for her home grand slam as she went down 6-4 6-4 to Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.
The 24-year-old Halep is one of four leading women players heading to the year’s first grand slam, which begins in Melbourne on Monday, under an injury cloud.
World number one Serena Williams (knee), fifth-ranked Maria Sharapova (arm) and number three Garbine Muguruza (foot) all withdrew from matches in the last week.