January 27, 2018
  • World No 2 wins first slam title after 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 victory
  • Both players battle through injury in three-setter

After no less than 43 grand slam appearances, it was finally Caroline Wozniacki’s turn, the Dane fending off a fearsome and spirited Simona Halep in three brilliant sets, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4, for her maiden grand slam victory. The nature of the gruelling affair spoke of the resolve of a deserved winner, even if was the kind of match that deserved no loser. She becomes the first Danish singles grand slam winner, and after six long years, will regain the title of world No 1 from Halep, an incredible turnaround of form for a player who dropped as low as No 74 as recently as August 2016.
On court, Wozniacki held back tears as she addressed the Melbourne crowd. “I dreamed of this moment for so many years,” she said. “To be here today is a dream come true, I never cry but today is an emotional moment.”
Wozniacki also acknowledged her opponent in Halep, and the pain she was experiencing in coming so close to her own maiden victory. “Simona, I know that today is a tough day, I’m sorry that I had to win. I’m sure we’ll have many matches in the future. It was an incredible match, you showed incredible fight, and again, I’m sorry.”
With two fan-favourites going head-to-head, and without the silverware they arguably deserve, a capacity crowd watched on as if willing neither combatant to lose. If anything, it seemed Halep had the backing of the Australian crowd, regular chants of “Si-mo-na” punctuating a muggy Melbourne night of first-class tennis. Perhaps it was the alliance with the Australian coach Daren Cahill, or perhaps it was the manner in which she arrived, saving no less than five match points across two separate matches that went to 15-13 and 9-7 in the last, respectively.
Wozniacki, of course, had a serious fright of her own in round two against Jana Fett, overturning a deficit of 5-1 in the last set to proceed. Then, the 27-year-old was quoted as saying she had “nothing to lose”, and she played as so, despite the fact that she was competing for the biggest prize of their tennis life, and one that had eluded her so long.
The first set produced the kind of tennis expected of a clash between the world’s No 1 and No 2 players, with very little separating the two until the decisive tiebreak. Halep was the more aggressive, hitting 15 winners to Wozniacki’s nine, but it was the Dane’s ever-reliable backhand that proved the difference; she hit only one error off it, and while she likewise produced only the one winner off it, its reliability saved so many more. She regularly forced the Romanian into producing yet more brilliant groundstrokes to close out points, Wozniacki’s superior scrambling game ensuring there were no easy points for Halep.
Coming into the tournament final with 81 forehand winners to Wozniacki’s 36, Halep often sought to test her forehand firepower against her opponent’s less-dominant stroke. Wozniacki, however, responded artfully to most challenges, and by the end of the set Halep could force only four errors from the Wozniacki backhand, while the No 1 in turn conceded seven when it became clear that rallying prowess alone would not be enough to defeat a formidable opponent. Wozniacki’s baseline game – to Halep’s dismay – was centimetre-perfect, hitting the lines and corners with relentless precision.
The second was a tale of missed opportunities for Wozniacki, who managed just 41% of first serves in, remarkably conceding only the one break point despite the poor return. But, that was all the chance Halep needed; at 4-3 up, she stepped up the aggression and finally broke down Wozniacki’s defensive game with consecutive stunning, outright winners. The world No 1, at 100% hit rate, found herself an unlikely break up, Wozniacki having failed to convert four preceding chances of her own. Perhaps most impressively, Halep then saved another three break points serving for the set. This, however, was not through any fault of Wozniacki, but thanks to the unflinching spirit of the Romanian.
The last began as tightly as the preceding two sets would suggest; both players were forced to deuce in their opening service games, before Halep narrowly pushed a forehand wide to gift Wozniacki her first look at the No 1’s serve. An overly tentative second-serve followed, sitting up juicily for Wozniacki, the world No 2 needing no encouragement to take by far her easiest shot at a break with a thumping forehand return. Reversing the trend of the second set, Halep then needed no less than six break points before the pressure finally told on Wozniacki, a double fault providing an anticlimactic and telling end to a service game that could have taken her to a 3-0 lead as in her victorious first set. It set up a crescendo of breaks, both women backing their ability to rattle their opponent on serve.
At 3-3, Wozniacki saved yet another break point before falling to a second, Halep taking a deserved break after she had aced her way to a definitive hold in the previous game. Wozniacki then called for a medical timeout, apparently to address an issue with her left knee, which she had taped, and upon her return looked to out-hit Halep, while Halep out-scrambled Wozniacki in turn. The temporarily changed tactic worked, Wozniacki overpowering Halep to level the set, Halep crouching with agony, cramp, or both, at the failure to hold serve (and the sixth break of the set). When Wozniacki followed by holding, Halep hung her head between her knees between games, perhaps fearing the worst.
The worst arrived soon after, Halep facing a break and championship point on her second serve, Wozniacki fittingly closing out the game with two points of relentless returning that forced Halep to produce her best tennis, of a quality unbelievably high, but still insufficient. Wozniacki fell to the floor in disbelief, a flood of tears – and perhaps relief – following.
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