Australian Open 2018: Caroline Wozniacki beats Simona Halep to win maiden Grand Slam title

The Dane and new world No 1 triumphed in a thrilling contest 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 in Melbourne

Paul Newman
Melbourne
Saturday 27 January 2018 12:27
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Caroline Wozniacki claims her first Grand Slam title at the 43rd attempt
Caroline Wozniacki claims her first Grand Slam title at the 43rd attempt

Almost every final in any competition ends in joy for the winner and disappointment for the loser, but rarely can the post-match emotions have been as wide apart as they were after Caroline Wozniacki’s 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Simona Halep in the Australian Open final here on Saturday.

For 27-year-old Wozniacki, this was a first Grand Slam title at the 43rd attempt, after defeats in both her previous finals. For 26-year-old Halep, it was a third successive defeat in her three Grand Slam finals, her misery compounded by the loss of her world No 1 ranking to her opponent.

The first Dane ever to win a Grand Slam singles title, Wozniacki fell on her back in delight at the end, the tears of joy already flowing as she got off the floor to commiserate with Halep. While Wozniacki ran across the court to celebrate with her team, Halep sat down and threw a towel over her head.

If it is of any consolation to the Romanian, some of the game’s finest players of the open era suffered similar losing runs in Grand Slam finals before going on to enjoy ultimate glory. Kim Clijsters lost her first four finals and Chris Evert and Jana Novotna their first three.

Wozniacki meanwhile has moved to fourth in the all-time women’s prize money list with this victory. At just over $30m (about £21.2m), her earnings are bettered only by Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova.

A meeting between the world’s top two promised to be a match of the highest quality and so it proved despite the stifling conditions, which saw the players given a 10-minute break before the final set as the tournament’s heat rule was invoked.

Halep was never quite at her best, but that was hardly surprising given the number of tough matches she has played over the last fortnight. Here she suffered cramp and tendon pain in her feet and saw the doctor midway through the second set because she was feeling unwell.

Wozniacki, however, struck the ball beautifully and underlined her reputation as one of the sport’s strongest, most resilient and most consistent players. The unforced error count told its own story, with Halep making 47 compared with 28 by Wozniacki.

Wozniacki was pushed all the way by Halep

Although Wozniacki will return to the top of the world rankings on Monday for the first time in six years – the longest gap between spells at the top in the 43-year history of the rankings – it will be the winning of her first Grand Slam title that will please her above all else.

Throughout her previous 67 weeks as world No 1, the Dane heard critics complaining that a player without a Grand Slam title could not be regarded as the best on the planet.

Wozniacki always dealt with those comments with dignity, as she did with the regular criticisms of her coaching arrangements – she has always been coached by her father – and the questions about her future when she slid down the world rankings.

Two summers ago she was No 74 in the world, but she came out fighting in 2017 and ended the year with the biggest victory of her career in the WTA Finals. She has won 71 tour-level matches since the start of last year, more than any other woman.

Wozniacki’s never-say-die attitude was typified by her second-round victory here over Jana Fett after trailing 5-1 and 40-15 in the deciding set and was in evidence once again in the final as she fought back from a break down in the decider.

Halep failed to win a Grand Slam title once again

After a sweltering day the temperature was still 32C by the time the players entered Rod Laver Arena for the 7.30pm start. The high humidity made conditions especially difficult and ice towels were the order of the day at changeovers.

Support seemed to be divided equally but a group of vocal Romanian supporters made their presence felt with regular chants of “Simona! Simona!”

Halep is arguably the best athlete in women’s tennis, but the Romanian was constantly stretched by the precision of Wozniacki’s ground strokes. Wozniacki’s biggest weakness always used to be her lack of firepower, but in recent times her ball-striking has been exceptional.

Wozniacki’s pinpoint accuracy in her shot placement and intelligent construction of points meant that Halep was constantly pulled from one side of the court to the other.

The Romanian paid a price for her exertions over the last fortnight. She struggled through the first week with a bad ankle injury, won the longest match of the tournament when she needed three and three-quarter hours to beat Lauren Davis in the third round and played another marathon against Angelique Kerber in the semi-finals.

Halep needed the help of the trainer in the second set

Halep appeared the more nervous player at the start as Wozniacki broke serve at the first attempt. While the Dane was timing the ball sweetly, Halep struggled to find her range.

There were no further breaks until Wozniacki served for the opening set at 5-3. Halep started to put more zip into her shots as Wozniacki went 0-40 down. The Dane saved two break points, but on the third a series of big shots by Halep forced her into a forehand error.

When the set went to a tie-break it felt as though Halep had done well to stay in contention for so long, but Wozniacki was not to be denied. The Dane played a superb tie-break, winning it 7-2.

Halep saved four break points at 1-1 in the second set, winning the game with an exquisite drop shot. Two games later, however, the Romanian, feeling dizzy and suffering from a headache, sent for the doctor and had her blood pressure taken before resuming.

By the end of the set, nevertheless, it was Wozniacki who was starting to wilt. Serving at 3-4, the Dane was repeatedly out-rallied and was broken when Halep hit a forehand winner down the line.

Wozniacki had two break points when Halep served at 5-3 but was unable to take either of them. Halep faltered on her first two set points but converted her third.

When the players returned after a 10-minute break Wozniacki briefly appeared the more refreshed as she broke for a 2-0 lead, but Halep broke back immediately in a game that sapped your energy just watching it. Wozniacki saved five break points before losing the sixth when she double-faulted.

The Dane also returns to number one in the world following her win

The effort seemed to take a toll on Halep as she dropped her serve to love in the following game, but by the middle of the set it was Wozniacki’s level that was dipping. The Dane missed with a lame forehand as Halep broke again to lead 3-2 and at the subsequent changeover Wozniacki appeared to be in some distress as she held an ice towel to her face.

At 3-3 Halep broke again, courtesy of two successive missed forehands, and at the ensuing changeover it was Wozniacki’s turn to take a medical time-out to have her left knee strapped.

The tide appeared to be turning, but Wozniacki responded in magnificent fashion, breaking back to level at 4-4 after a game full of lung-busting rallies.

When Halep served to stay in the match at 4-5 the Romanian double-faulted for 30-30 before Wozniacki went to match point with the most stunning rally of the night. Wozniacki stayed in the point with some stupendous defence before pushing Halep out wide with a glorious cross-court backhand and then hitting a forehand winner.

That point may have broken Halep’s spirit. On the only match point the Romanian netted a backhand after two hours and 50 minutes. The depth of her despair was matched only by the magnitude of Wozniacki’s joy.

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