Serena Williams outlasts Simona Halep in Miami Open thriller

Serena Williams, left, advanced to the Miami Open final after beating Simona Halep in a three-set classic.

(CNN)Serena Williams' semifinal clash with Simona Halep at the Miami Open was billed as a blockbuster.

And with good reason.
Williams, the 19-time grand slam winner, hadn't lost a tennis match since last October at the year-end championships in Singapore. Her conqueror that day? Halep, who not only downed the American but handed Williams one of the worst losses of her career.
Halep, meanwhile, was riding a 14-match winning streak, which included bagging the biggest title of her career at Indian Wells in March. Halep and Williams were due to meet in the last four in the California desert, only for Williams to withdraw with a knee injury.
    Williams recovered in time for Miami -- one of her favorite tournaments -- and combined with Halep to orchestrate a thriller in Thursday night's second semifinal.
    In the end Williams prevailed 6-2 4-6 7-5 over the third-ranked Romanian to move within touching distance of claiming a record-extending eighth title at one of the WTA Tour's most prestigious events.
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    The 33-year-old will face 12th seed Carla Suarez Navarro in Saturday's women's finale.
    "I actually had a fun match," Williams, who collected win No. 701 of her career, was quoted as saying by the WTA's website. "I just feel it was on my racket.
    "I had chances in the second set but didn't take them. That's something I can't do going into the grand slams coming up."
    Williams, who won the Australian Open in January, almost blew a break lead in the third set, too. But at 5-5, she held serve and then broke to seal the affair.
    Williams did the dictating, making 45 unforced errors and 38 winners. Halep, one of the best defenders in the game, did her best to soak up the pressure. She struck 10 winners and 24 unforced errors.
    Williams came away impressed with Halep, last year's French Open finalist.
    "Her game was great," Williams said. "She plays so well, and it's so good to see her play so well. She's so young, and I actually love watching her play. I'm actually a fan of hers.
    "I really like her attitude on the court. I like how she gets pumped up. I like how she fights. I like how she plays. It's definitely a refreshing type of game."
    Suarez Navarro may not be a household name to many tennis fans but she's quietly putting together a superb season.
    Indeed heading into Miami, the 26-year-old stood fifth in the calendar year rankings -- and that's set to improve after Miami.
    Suarez Navarro followed up Tuesday's victory over Serena's older sister Venus by topping German ninth seed Andrea Petkovic in the opening semifinal 6-3 6-3.
    When the new rankings are released Monday, she'll become the third Spanish woman to crack the top 10 after grand slam champions Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez.
    "It's so important for me," Suarez Navarro said on the WTA website.
    "I was practicing and working all year with my team for a moment like this."
    She'll likely have to raise her game another notch to upset Williams, though.
    In their four matches, she's won a combined 10 games. Williams "double bageled" Suarez -- a 6-0 6-0 result -- at the 2013 U.S. Open.
    Meanwhile, in Friday's men's semifinals in Miami, world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic will take on American John Isner after British third seed Andy Murray plays Czech Tomas Berdych.
    Djokovic, seeking to become the first man to win at Indian Wells and Miami in the same year on three occasions, beat Spain's seventh-ranked David Ferrer 7-5 7-5 on Thursday.
    World No. 24 Isner followed up his win over sixth-ranked Milos Raonic by upsetting Japanese fourth seed Kei Nishikori 6-4 6-3. He lost to Djokovic in the last 16 at Indian Wells last month and has a 2-6 record against the Serbian.