Third time lucky as Wozniacki ends slam wait and claims No.1 ranking
Caroline Wozniacki claimed her first grand slam crown and replaced Simona Halep atop the WTA rankings with her Australian Open win.
Caroline Wozniacki banished her Australian Open demons and ended her long wait for a grand slam title by coming through a dramatic and thrilling final against world number one Simona Halep.
Wozniacki had yearned for a major championship, having twice been a runner-up at the US Open, while she was left with scars following her Australian Open semi-final defeat to Li Na in 2009, in which she coughed up a match point.
But second seed Wozniacki finally added her name to the list of slam winners by prevailing 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-4 in humid and gruelling conditions in Melbourne on Saturday, replacing Halep atop the WTA rankings in the process and returning to the summit for the first time in six years.
Wozniacki's wait for a major looked set to continue when she gave up a 2-0 lead in the final set and then saw Halep move 4-3 ahead against serve in a gripping encounter, but the 27-year-old was not to be denied, becoming the first Danish slam champion.
Halep, also searching for her first slam success, may have had more support in a packed Rod Laver Arena thanks to a strong and vocal Romanian contingent, but it was all about Wozniacki – boasting a 4-2 head-to-head record prior to the final – in the early stages.
While Halep struggled to find her rhythm or her range, Wozniacki enjoyed a flawless start from the baseline, finding winners with ease as she raced out to a 4-1 lead.
Wozniacki continued to outperform her opponent and it was not until the sixth game that we saw Halep's best.
Halep finally produced some winners, the kind that saw her outlast Lauren Davis and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in two marathon classics which took her on-court time towards 12 hours, hitting four successive forehand winners to hold to love.
There was a thunderous reception as Wozniacki won an unlikely point – the crowd applauding in appreciation. The Dane looked down and out when Halep worked her around the court and played a drop shot. It appeared to beat Wozniacki – the stadium approving the execution – but the latter somehow managed to chase it down, sensationally winning the point for an eventual 5-2 cushion.
But there was a wobble for Wozniacki serving for the set at 5-3. In a love-40 hole after a couple of uncharacteristic errors, the second seed managed to save two break points but she could not fend off a third as Halep struck back, and it triggered a run of three successive games for the Romanian.
Halep seemed to have all the momentum heading into the tie-break, yet Wozniacki regained the advantage as she won her first set in a slam, having lost in straights at the US Open in 2009 and 2014.
An energy-zapping set lasting 50 gruelling minutes seemed to take its toll on Halep. Having fended off four break points in the third game of the second, she called for medical attention – her blood pressure taken amid the challenging and muggy conditions in Melbourne.
However, Halep then battled to a 5-3 lead before saving three break points – preserving a 100 per cent record with seven from seven in the set – to force a decider at the third time of asking in a gripping encounter.
The heat rule came into effect prior to the third set and once play resumed, Wozniacki emerged the superior of the pair, opening up a 2-0 lead before a double-fault gave Halep the chance to put the match back on serve.
Both players struggled to hold serve, but it was Halep who held the upper hand when she broke for a 4-3 lead and saw Wozniacki receive treatment on her left knee at the subsequent changeover.
Wozniacki was not finished, though, and won three games on the bounce to end years of pain.
Wozniacki  bt Halep  7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-4
Wozniacki – 25/28
Halep – 40/47
Wozniacki – 2/6
Halep – 6/1
BREAK POINTS WON
Wozniacki – 5/14
Halep – 5/12
FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Wozniacki – 58
Halep – 61
PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Wozniacki – 66/51
Halep – 65/47
Wozniacki – 110
Halep – 108
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