Wozniacki defeats Halep in a thriller, wins 1st Slam title
MELBOURNE: One drought was guaranteed to end in the Australian Open women's final on Saturday, and relief came for Caroline Wozniacki.
A 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Simona Halep gave Wozniacki her first Grand Slam title at last, while depriving Halep of the same satisfaction.
The victory also allowed the second-ranked Wozniacki to unseat Halep as the world No. 1. Wozniacki regained the top ranking six years after she last held it. Such an ending looked highly unlikely in the second round of the tournament, when the second-seeded Wozniacki faced two match points and a 1-5 deficit in the final set against the unseeded Jana Fett of Croatia. Wozniacki escaped and went on to win six straight games. Halep had saved match points of her own, five in total over two matches: her third-round victory over the American Lauren Davis and her semifinal victory over the former No. 1 Angelique Kerber.
That made this Grand Slam final the first in the Open era between women who had both faced match points in the tournament. Wozniacki and Halep had also both lost their previous two major finals.
But the speedy Wozniacki ended her wait on Saturday and in the process became the first player from Denmark to win a major singles title.
She lost the 2009 United States Open final to Kim Clijsters and the 2014 United States Open final to Serena Williams. Both opponents were aggressive base liners, with power in abundance, and they took the initiative against the more defensive-minded Wozniacki. But she has changed her game in recent seasons and improved her serve. Wozniacki still relies on her outstanding coverage and consistency from the baseline, but she has added a dose of risk to the mix.
It helped her win the WTA Finals — the elite, eight-women, season-ending championship — in October. That was her most significant title until Saturday.
It has been a long chase. Though Wozniacki is just 27, this was her 43rd appearance in a Grand Slam singles tournament. Flavia Pennetta, Marion Bartoli and Jana Novotna are the only women to have played in more before winning a first major trophy.
The first time Wozniacki played the Australian Open, as a 17-year-old in 2008, she reached the fourth round. She rose to No. 1 in October 2010 and — with the exception of one week — held the top spot until January 2012.
She faced questions all through that run about her inability to win a Grand Slam title. "I'm No. 1 in the world. I'm 20 years old, so I think I'm doing fine," she said in an interview in May 2011. "Obviously of course I'd like to win a Grand Slam, but I don't put pressure on myself. Next year. This year. In three years."
It took nearly seven, and it was sweet.