For anyone who doubted, this was Angelique Kerber in 2016 vintage form. Kerber routed U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys 6-1, 6-2 on Wednesday to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open, the tournament where she kicked off her career-best season in 2016 with victory over Serena Williams in the final.
She also won the U.S. Open and finished that year with the No. 1 ranking. But she was upset in the first round at Melbourne Park last year, and her ranking dropped into the 20s.
The 30-year-old Kerber won the Sydney International to prepare for the first major of the year, then won her first three rounds in straight sets.
Her third-round victory over Maria Sharapova meant she was the only singles Grand Slam winner remaining in the women's draw. But a struggling fourth-round win over No. 88 Hsieh Su-wei had commentators wondering if Kerber was in 2016, or 2017 form.
Against No. 17-seeded Keys, she responded by winning the first four games to take control of the quarterfinal — her first at a major since the 2016 U.S. Open. Keys held in the fifth game of the first set, but Kerber went on another roll to lead 3-0 in the second set.
Keys slowed the momentum by holding and then getting her first service break of the match, but Kerber responded quickly to finish it off in 51 minutes. She broke Keys six times in total in the match.
"It's always tough to play against Madison," said Kerber, who has now won seven of eight matches against Keys. "She's hitting the ball so hard, the serve is also really fast, so I was just trying from the beginning like I played the whole week, just going out there, playing my game and enjoying it."
For Keys, it was another disappointing loss in a major. She reached the U.S. Open final last September but lost in straight sets to Sloane Stephens.
HALEP DEFEATS PLISKOVA
Top-seeded Simona Halep recovered from an early service break and won nine straight games en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 6-seeded Karolina Pliskova to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the first time.
Halep, playing as the No. 1 seed for the first time in a Grand Slam tournament and seeking her first major title, will face 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in the last four.
Halep has overcome her challenges so far at Melbourne Park. She badly twisted her ankle in an earlier round, and had to fend off triple match point before beating American Lauren Davis 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 in the third round. In terms of games, it was the equal-longest women's singles match at the Australian Open. In her first four rounds, Halep spent 8 hours and 44 minutes on court.