Halep, Wozniacki advance to Australian Open final

No. 1 will be on the line in more ways than one in the Australian Open women’s final.

Both top-seeded Simona Halep of Romania and second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki will be aiming for a first career major title, and the winner of the match will emerge with the world’s No. 1 ranking.

Wozniacki beat unseeded Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-3, 7-6 (2) on Thursday to reach the final in Melbourne. Halep emerged with a 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 victory over 21st-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany.

Halep, 26, survived a wild third set. She blew two match points while serving at 5-4, lost her serve to fall behind 6-5, then saved two match points to even the set at 6-6.

Eventually, Halep’s aggressive groundstrokes proved the difference as she closed out a 2-hour, 23-minute victory.

“It definitely was very tough,” Halep said in an on-court interview just after the match. “I’m shaking now. I’m really emotional because I (won) this match.”

Asked about surviving two Kerber match points, Halep said, “I just had confidence in myself. … I decided … that I would fight for every point. I will go to the end. I will give everything in this tournament and then I will rest. So now, I will have a big rest after this tournament.”

Halep’s only prior major finals were defeats in the 2014 French Open to Russia’s Maria Sharapova and the 2017 French Open to Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko.

In 42 previous Grand Slam events, Wozniacki reached the final just twice, both times at the U.S. Open. She fell in straight sets to Belgium’s Kim Clijsters in 2009, and she lost in straight sets to Serena Williams in 2014.

Her best previous result in Melbourne was a semifinal appearance in 2011, a match in which Wozniacki blew a match point in the second set and fell to Li Na.

Wozniacki, 27, cruised through the first set against Mertens in 40 minutes, and she jumped ahead 5-3 in the second set. Mertens then held serve at love, and she broke Wozniacki’s serve to even the score.

After Mertens again held at love for a 6-5 lead, she grabbed two set points on Wozniacki’s serve but couldn’t convert either. Wozniacki survived a 13-point game to force the tiebreaker, in which she jumped on top 3-0 and pulled away.

The late-match wobble caused Wozniacki to harken back to the 2011 defeat to Li Na.

“I got really tight at 5-4 (in the second set). I felt like I was hitting against a wall,” Wozniacki said. “Serving for the match against Na in 2011 was definitely on my mind today, but I tried to stay calm and I was lucky to get the win.

“Once she had set points, I said to myself, ‘I guess it’s a third set,’ so I just had to go for it.”

Wozniacki jokingly apologized to her cheering section, including fiance David Lee, a former NBA star, for the second-set stress.

“First of all, I’m sorry,” she said. “When I started on tour, my dad had dark hair, now it’s all gray. And David still has blond hair for now, but I apologize for the couple (of gray hairs) you got today.

“They mean so much to me, their support means everything to me. Especially in those moments where you’re really feeling under pressure. Just looking up and knowing that they’re there for you, that really helps.”

Halep said of opposing Wozniacki for the championship, “I respect her a lot. I know the match will be similar to today (against Kerber). I will have to run, so it will be a big challenge.”

–Field Level Media

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