Simona Halep eyes ‘dream’ grand slam title as Caroline Wozniacki lies in wait

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Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki will try to put history to one side when they clash in the Australian Open final on Saturday with a first grand slam title and the world number one ranking on the line.

After Wozniacki withstood a major wobble with the finish line in sight to beat Elise Mertens 6-3 7-6 (7/2), Halep defeated title favourite Angelique Kerber 6-3 4-6 9-7, with the third set a battle of lung-busting brilliance.

The final will be a clash between the top two seeds, who share more than simply proximity in the rankings. Both have been ranked number one without winning a slam, both lost their first two finals at this level and, in the second half of their careers, both know they may never get a better chance.

They might be desperate to get their hands on the silverware, yet both Halep and Wozniacki insisted they have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Halep goes in as the holder of the number one ranking but has made no secret that a slam title is her big goal.

“It’s bigger than number one,” she said. “It’s my dream, to win a grand slam title. But it’s always tough when you are close. I had this opportunity two times. The last one was very close.

“Maybe Saturday I will be better. And if it’s not going to happen Saturday, I will stay strong and I will keep thinking and dreaming for others.”

Simona Halep, pictured left, is congratulated by Angelique Kerber
Simona Halep, pictured left, is congratulated by Angelique Kerber (AP)

If the final has anywhere near the quality and drama of the third set of Halep’s match against Kerber, then Rod Laver Arena is in for a treat.

The pair are two of the best athletes and tacticians on tour and they dragged each other all around the court in spectacular fashion, each great rally somehow surpassing the previous one.

Halep served for the match at 5-3, missed two match points in the following game and then saved two match points herself at 5-6 before finally clinching her fourth opportunity.

Remarkably she goes into the final having saved five match points across two different contests after repelling three more in her 15-13 final set triumph over Lauren Davis in round three.

The 26-year-old, once known for a tendency to get down on herself, said: “I was not afraid of losing. I won those balls, and then I got the confidence back that I’m still alive and I can do it.”

Wozniacki’s victory over first-time slam semi-finalist Mertens looked set to be routine until the Dane served for the match at 5-4.

Memories of her only previous semi-final in Melbourne in 2011, when she held match point against Li Na only to lose, came flooding back and Wozniacki lost 11 of 12 points before saving two set points and going on to win the tie-break.

Both the 27-year-old’s previous slam finals came at the US Open – she lost to Kim Clijsters in 2009 and Serena Williams in 2014. Having fielded questions about her hopes of winning one for the best part of a decade, Wozniacki insisted she will not be piling pressure on herself.

The second seed, who recovered from 5-1 and 40-15 down to beat Jana Fett in the second round, said: “You live and you learn, and you try again. They knock you down, you come back up. Hopefully I can change that on Saturday.

“I think it’s been a great two weeks so far. I’m really happy and proud of how I’ve managed to turn things around when things weren’t going my way and keep it up whenever it was going my way.

“I’m just excited. It’s another finals. Regardless of what happens now, I’ve done my best. When you go out there on Saturday, you have everything to win.”

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