World number one Simona Halep overpowered 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in a titanic battle to book her spot in the final of the Australian Open. In a gripping contest, Halep needed a fourth match point to see off Kerber 6-3 4-6 9-7, having saved two of her own in an absorbing encounter on Thursday.
Halep was involved in the most games played (48) in a women's match at the Australian Open after surviving against Lauren Davis in the third round – a marathon lasting three hours and 45 minutes.
While the semi-final did not last that long, it provided plenty of highlights as the two big hitters went head-to-head, Halep prevailing to end the German's unbeaten year.
Two-time French Open finalist, Halep is the first Romanian women to reach the decider in Melbourne and will face second seed Caroline Wozniacki in Saturday's final.
Kerber – boasting a superior 4-3 head-to-head record – came into this contest riding a 10-match winning streak, having claimed the Sydney International, but she was caught napping by the relentless Halep. It was a stunning start to proceedings on Rod Laver Arena, an error-riddled opening seeing Kerber trail 5-0 inside just 14 minutes.
Amid wayward shots and sprayed forehands, Kerber was her own worst enemy, while everything fell the way of Halep, an improbable net cord summing up her golden start, to the amazement of the crowd.
The German then rallied, waking up to reel off three successive games, and there were consecutive double faults to open Halep's service game as she tried to close out the set, Kerber going on to break to love to avoid a bagel, with the crowd roaring in approval.
Kerber was then stopped in her tracks by Halep, who responded by breaking to close out the set. Kerber changed her outfit but it was more of the same in the second set, broken in the fourth game against an unrelenting Halep, who converted her second opportunity. She refused to surrender, though, putting the match back on serve and breaking again for a 5-4 lead, and Kerber managed to force a deciding set at the third time of asking, having wasted two set points.
Kerber and Halep exchanged breaks to open the third set and they continued to go toe-to-toe at 3-3. There was a significant swing in momentum as Halep won seven successive points from 0-30 down in the seventh game for a 5-3 lead in the third. The topsy-turvy battle continued, with Kerber saving two match points at 5-4 before she earned two of her own, but failed to convert two games later. Halep was not to be denied, outlasting Kerber to progress to her third slam final and first in Melbourne after a thrilling two hours and 20 minutes.
Halep  bt Kerber  6-3 4-6 9-7
Halep – 50/50
Kerber – 33/34
Halep – 6/3
Kerber – 0/0
BREAK POINTS WON
Halep – 9/22
Kerber – 7/7
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Halep – 68
Kerber – 71
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Halep – 67/33
Kerber – 52/42
Halep – 116
Kerber – 103