First Slam and No. 1 at stake for Halep, Wozniacki

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MELBOURNE: Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki will each be trying to end a Grand Slam jinx when they lock horns in an Australian Open finals Saturday between the world’s two best players.

Both Halep and Wozniacki are in their third major final — their first in Australia — and both saved match points in earlier rounds to get there.

Defeat for Romanian world number one Halep would see her knocked off the top ranking by the Dane, currently number two.

Wozniacki, 27, has long carried the unwanted moniker of best player never to win a major, having reached the US Open final in 2009 and 2014, and first becoming number one in 2010.


She is in her 43rd Grand Slam appearance and with a win will regain the number one spot six years after last holding the position — the longest gap between stints at the top since computerised rankings were introduced in 1975.

Simona Halep (left) and Caroline Wozniacki AFP PHOTO

“I always believed in myself. I had a tough period where I had a few injuries,” said the 27-year-old after reaching another major final with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/2) win over unseeded Elise Mertens.

Wozniacki slid down the rankings to 19th at the end of 2016, and even had to dismiss rumours of retirement in Melbourne a year ago.

“That was kind of hard and tough mentally. But once I got past that, I knew that if I can stay healthy and I work hard, my game is good enough for it,” she said.

Her hard work was rewarded with a renaissance in 2017, reaching eight finals — winning in Tokyo and at the season-ending WTA Finals, where she banished another hoodoo by registering a first career win over Venus Williams.

She continued her sparkling form at the start of this year and has 10 wins and only one defeat, to Julia Goerges in the warm-up Auckland finals.

Halep is in her 31st Grand Slam tournament after defeating former champion Angelique Kerber 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in a thrilling semi-final. She made her only previous Grand Slam final appearances at Roland Garros in 2014 and 2017.

The Romanian has only beaten Wozniacki twice in their six previous matches, the most recent meeting ending in a 6-0, 6-2 battering by the Dane at the 2017 WTA Finals in Singapore.

“The way she’s playing, she’s not missing,” said Halep of Wozniacki. “She’s running very well. So she’s a strong opponent. I played many times. I won against her few times.

“It’s going to be a different match. Emotions are there. Pressures are there for both of us. We’ll see what is going to happen.”

Big challenge
Halep, without a clothing sponsor, will again be trusting in her ‘lucky’ red dress she found on the Internet.

She wore it to win the title in the warm-up event in Shenzhen, and it has served her brilliantly in an 11-match unbeaten run.

The 26-year-old said it might be hard to treat Saturday’s occasion as just another game.

“I don’t want to change anything. It’s a normal match. For sure it’s a big challenge,” she said.

“Maybe the biggest one, because all the things that were going on this tournament, first Grand Slam of the year, first final here.”

Halep had to save three match points in her third-round third-set 15-13 epic against American Lauren Davis, the longest match of the tournament and third longest in Australian Open history at 3hr 44min.

She had to save two more against Kerber to reach the finals.

Wozniacki was almost out of the tournament at 1-5, 15-40 in the third set to unseeded Jana Fett in the second round before fashioning her own great escape.

“Just like me, she was down match points early on in the tournament, has come back and fought her way,” said Wozniacki.

“I think it’s exciting because we’re both playing for the number one ranking. I think it’s a cool storyline.”

AFP

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