In the end, Halep, leaning on experience, won 4-6, 6-4, 15-13, saving three consecutive match points at 10-11 and serving out the match only on her fourth attempt and dancing on a tightrope between catastrophe and champion.
Davis said she "always looked up to" Halep, and this is a case of the literal (the American is a mere 1.57m, the Romanian 1.68m) and the figurative.
It was a landmark Saturday at Melbourne Park as Simona Halep and Lauren Davis equalled the record for the longest match in Australian Open women's singles history.
"I've never played a third set so long".
"I was very happy I could stay and win it". I'm nearly dead. But it was.
"I just feel that my muscles are gone", she added. My ankle - I can't feel it any more.
"But it was nice to win this match, to be on this court and to be in the fourth round of this tournament".
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Halep served for the match at 5-4, 6-5 and 8-7 but was pegged back each time by the American, who showed enormous belief, despite her inferior ranking, in cooler conditions at Melbourne Park after Friday's extreme heat.
It was a good match for both players, and it must have been particularly heartbreaking for the American especially after owning three match points and her broken toenail hindered her.
There are many similarities between Davis and Halep. With the score 1-1 at 15-all in the first set, Halep looked crisp during a fiery 20-shot rally that ended with her forehand victor.
Despite seeing an early break lead retrieved by her Russian opponent Kerber recovered to secure a second break of serve in the set before closing out the match in assured fashion to reach the last 16 where she will meet either Hsieh Su-Wei or Agnieszka Radwanska. "We were both fighting our hearts out, and, I mean, every point was just super long.?I got to the point where I was so exhausted, I just told myself to swing and move and for the most part it was very effective". Left all that I had out there on the court.
In other late second-round action, Japan's Naomi Osaka knocked off No. 16 Elena Vesnina of Russian Federation 7-6, 6-2 while No. 18 seed Ashleigh Barty of Great Britain rallied after losing the first set to move on to the third round, defeating Italy's Camila Giorgi 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.
Karolina Pliskova battled into the fourth round with a 7-6 (6) 7-5 win over Lucie Safarova.
Keys missed last year's Australian Open after undergoing surgery to fix her injured left wrist.
Davis, the 24-year-old who has never passed the third round of a major, had three chances to close it out when returning at 11-10, and openings on the first two points she could not quite take.