MELBOURNE   -  Serena Williams of United States on Tuesday blasted past Romania’s Simona Halep to set up an Australian Open semi-final showdown with Japan’s Naomi Osaka. 

Williams took a step towards a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title with a 6-3, 6-3 dismantling of second seed Halep, the American’s nemesis in the 2019 Wimbledon final. Williams, 39, said her level was improving ahead of her meeting with Osaka, who came out on top in their tempestuous 2018 US Open title match. “Definitely think this is the best match I have played this tournament, for sure,” said the 10th seed. “Obviously I had to, going up against the number two in the world, so I knew I had to do better.” 

Their semi-final promises much after Osaka, the reigning US Open champion, looked in great touch in her 6-2, 6-2 win over Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei. Displaying great focus against the awkward Hsieh, ranked 71 and playing her first Slam quarter-final aged 35, Osaka hit 24 winners and was detained on Rod Laver Arena for only 66 minutes. “I told myself just to be really intense from the beginning,” said the Japanese star, the reigning US Open champion. “I felt like I knew what to expect and that I couldn’t afford to be lazy with my footwork or anything.” 

Elsewhere, 114th-ranked Karatsev became the first man to reach a Grand Slam semi on debut when he ousted a hobbling Grigor Dimitrov 2-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. The 27-year-old has knocked out three seeds on his run to the last four, where he will face world number one Novak Djokovic or US Open finalist Alexander Zverev. “It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Karatsev, who becomes only the second qualifier to reach the Australian Open semi-finals after Bob Giltinan in 1977. He is also the lowest-ranked man to make the semis at a Slam since 125th-ranked Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001. 

Reigning champion Novak Djokovic overcame several dips in form to beat Alexander Zverev 6-7(6), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(6) to book berth in the Australian Open semifinals. The Serbian world No 1 hit back strongly after losing a tight opening set on a tiebreak but trailed in both the third and fourth sets before turning them around. 

German sixth seed Zverev will rue allowing Djokovic back from 4-1 down in the third set and he was also up 3-0 in the fourth. Djokovic again wore tape on his abdominal area, a legacy of the injury picked up in his third-round win over Taylor Fritz. But it did not appear to bother him as he reached his 39th Grand Slam semifinal, where he will face an unlikely opponent in Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev.