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Coach is backing Serena to go on and lift title

 

On serve: Serena Williams serves during her victory over Simona Halep
On serve: Serena Williams serves during her victory over Simona Halep

By Paul Newman

Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach of Serena Williams, believes the 37-year-old American will go on to win the Australian Open after her 6-1 4-6 6-4 victory over Simona Halep yesterday took her into the quarter-finals.

Williams, who had dropped only nine games in her first three matches, was pushed hard by Halep but had too much power for the World No.1 as she stayed on course to win the Grand Slam title she needs to match Margaret Court's all-time record of 24.

Williams will now meet Karolina Pliskova, who beat Garbine Muguruza 6-3 6-1.

Although Williams reached two Grand Slam finals last year - she lost to Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon and to Naomi Osaka at the US Open - Mouratoglou believes that she was not ready to reign again in 2018. She returned to competition last March, having taken a 14-month break in order to have a baby.

"She's fitter than she was last year, because even though she made a lot of efforts to come back in shape I don't think she had enough time," Mouratoglou said. "Having a baby is a big thing, so for a top-level athlete to come back and be 100% fit after having a baby, I think there was not enough time.

"Now I think she's ready physically. I think emotionally too because it's a big change in anyone's life to have a baby and you need to get used to a new life.

"But I feel now she's back to being Serena on both the physical and emotional side. Her level is good. I think she needed a big fight, and it happened today and I think it's a great thing - especially when it ends like that.

"I believe she will win the title. If I don't believe she will win I should coach somebody else."

Halep, who was the first World No.1 Williams has faced since she started her comeback, had arrived here with low expectations after suffering a back injury at the end of last year and not winning a match since August. However, her form has picked up and she made a fight of this match.

Williams dropped her serve to love on a double fault in the opening game, but then won six games in a row to take the first set as Halep struggled. In the second set, however, Halep started to move the American around the court and the decider turned into an intense battle.

The match turned on two games in the middle of the third set. Serving at 2-3, Williams saved three break points in a high-intensity game and then broke to go 4-3 up, after which she served out for the match.

Mouratoglou said Williams was just "being herself" in those key games. He explained: "That's her trademark, to be able to play those moments better than the opponent.

"I think one of her main qualities is to be a top competitor. And being a top competitor means being able to turn the matches around to feel the big moments during a match, and on those moments, raise their level, either with quality of the shots or tactically to win those points and turn the match in their favour."

Williams said she felt she had been "hanging in there" but needed to raise her level to win the tournament.

"I feel like each day, each match, and each tournament I'm learning something, and I think I'm just learning that I have to fight for titles," she said.

Halep felt like she had been "hit by a train" in the first set but added: "I didn't get scared about the first set, because I knew I had a better level, and I could play better if I stayed there and started moving better and hitting the ball stronger.

"So after the first set, I got fire inside myself, and I said that now I would start the match. So it was much better.

"I haven't been prepared for the highest level in tennis, but I did not play badly, so I'm happy about the way that it's been going this tournament."

Thierry Van Cleemput, who was David Goffin's coach until they went their separate ways on Sunday, watched the match from the row behind Halep's player box.

"We are talking," Halep said, insisting that she had nothing to do with Van Cleemput's split from Goffin.

"I like him as a coach, as a person, but he is not my official coach. We haven't decided anything yet."

Halep has been at the top of the world rankings for a total of 64 weeks, but by the end of this tournament Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina and Pliskova could all replace her.

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