Australian Open organizers got their dream final on Thursday in Melbourne when world No. 1 Simona Halep and No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki advance to the championship match, where one player will win their first Grand Slam title with the No. 1 ranking also on the line.
Halep advanced after a marathon 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 win over No. 21 seed and former No. 1 Angie Kerber, who has been the hottest player on tour in January.
“I feel proud that I could stay there and fight till the end,” Halep said. “So it’s a nice feeling. I’m looking forward for the last match of this tournament.”
Halep had lost four of the last five to Kerber, and history was looking to repeat itself after the Romanian blew two match points, then was forced to save two match points before closing out the 9-7 fifth set. Like her win over Karolina Pliskova, Halep preyed on the forehand wing of Kerber until it collapsed.
“I was aggressive,” she said. “I had this in my mind, and I wanted to finish the points quicker, but was not that easy with her. She’s moving very well.”
Wozniacki in her semifinal defeated unseeded Belgian surprise Elise Mertens 6-3, 7-6(2) with her patented defence, forcing Mertens into three times the errors off the forehand wing than the Dane, but not without some obvious nerves.
“I got really tight at 5-4,” Wozniacki said of the second set where she threw in some key double faults, including game point. “I felt like I was hitting against a wall…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.”
The 22-year-old Mertens entered the match 10-0 in 2018 and was appearing in just her fifth Grand Slam main draw.
“It’s a mixed feeling,” said Mertens, who will shoot into the Top 20 on the WTA rankings and have her choice of tournaments throughout the remainder of 2018. “Of course you lost the match, but of course also I’m very happy that I’m in the semifinal for the first time. I gave everything today until the last point. Of course, 5-4, 30-0, you think, ‘Oh!’ But she was just slightly better than me today.”
On court after the match Wozniacki apologized to her father in the stands.
“I’m sorry,” Wozniacki said. “When I started on tour my dad had dark hair, now it’s all grey.”
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