Woz­ni­acki, Halep chas­ing that elu­sive first grand slam ti­tle

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

MELBOURNE: Si­mona Halep and Caro­line Woz­ni­acki will com­pete for high stakes in to­day’s Aus­tralian Open fi­nal, hav­ing each needed to save match points to pre­vent a pre­ma­ture exit at Melbourne Park.

The win­ner at Rod Laver Arena is not only guar­an­teed a long-awaited maiden grand slam ti­tle but also the world num­ber one rank­ing in the ‘game of thrones’ that women’s ten­nis has be­come in Ser­ena Wil­liams’s ab­sence.

The fi­nal will be the first be­tween two non-slam win­ners in 38 years, since Hana Man­d­likova beat home favourite Wendy Turn­bull in 1980.

But in a fort­night where the seeds have been scat­tered to the wind, Halep and Woz­ni­acki may both feel for­tu­nate to still be in the hunt.

In ar­guably the clash of the tour­na­ment, top seed Halep had to save three match points and bat­tle back from a set down in a marathon thriller against Amer­i­can Lau­ren Davis in the third round.

Still re­cov­er­ing from an an­kle in­jury, the Ro­ma­nian needed to save two fur­ther match points in an­other three­set clas­sic against 2016 cham­pion An­gelique Ker­ber in the semi-fi­nals.

Sec­ond seed Woz­ni­acki also had to save two match points and claw back from 5-1 down in her early round match against Croa­tia’s Jana Fett.

Lit­tle won­der Den­mark’s most ac­com­plished ten­nis player de­scribed her­self as feel­ing like she was play­ing with “house money” at Melbourne Park.

Both Halep and Woz­ni­acki have been at pains to down­play the sig­nif­i­cance of the de­cider.

Halep said it was “just an­other match”, while Woz­ni­acki spoke as if steel­ing her­self for dis­ap­point­ment.

“It’s an­other fi­nals, it’s an­other great two weeks,” the 27-year-old said.

“Re­gard­less of what hap- pens now, I’ve done my best.”

But they will both pri­vately burn for a break­through as two play­ers who have come close but never quite been able to seal the deal.

Each have failed twice in grand slam fi­nals and long played with queries about whether they have the men­tal for­ti­tude to clinch one of the ma­jor tro­phies.

Woz­ni­acki, who lost the 2009 US Open fi­nal to Bel­gian Kim Cli­jsters and again in 2014 to Wil­liams, laboured un­der the tag of “world num­ber one with­out a grand slam” for the 67 weeks she was at the top in 2010-12.

Since Oc­to­ber, 26-year-old Halep is now the holder of that du­bi­ous honour, hav­ing missed out in last year’s French Open fi­nal to Lat­vian teen Je­lena Ostapenko and also to Maria Shara­pova at Roland Gar­ros in 2014.

In a tour­na­ment that has shaken out a raft of base­line bash­ers, it is two scram­bling counter- punch­ers that have sur­vived and now have their chance.

When they last met, even­tual cham­pion Woz­ni­acki thrashed Halep in straight sets in the round-robin phase of the WTA Fi­nals in Sin­ga­pore in Oc­to­ber and holds a 4-2 ca­reer record over the Ro­ma­nian. But on hard­courts, the ledger is square at 2-2. – Reuters

SI­MONA HALEP: ‘Just an­other match’

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