Saturday 21 July 2018

WATCH: Caroline Wozniacki can't hold back the emotion as she wins her first grand slam title in Australia

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki in action during her match against Romania's Simona Halep
Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki in action during her match against Romania's Simona Halep

Eleanor Crooks

Caroline Wozniacki was planning a night cuddling her new friend Daphne after breaking her grand slam duck at the Australian Open.

It was fitting that the prize the Dane has been chasing for so long did not come easily, with Wozniacki eventually out-lasting Simona Halep 7-6 (7/2) 3-6 6-4 after a battle royale on Rod Laver Arena.

The victory means Wozniacki also takes over from Halep as world number one exactly six years after she last topped the rankings.

She said: "Obviously that's very special. I think being a new grand slam champion and world number one sounds pretty good. I'm very excited for that. It's a dream come true."

A teenage prodigy, Wozniacki reached her first grand slam final at the US Open in 2009 and another in New York in 2014 but lost first to Kim Clijsters and then Serena Williams.

It was Flushing Meadows that set Wozniacki off on the latest climb of her rollercoaster journey. In August 2016, she was ranked down at 74 but a run to the semi-finals put her back in the top 30 and it has been an upward trend ever since.

She said: "I'd been through a lot of injuries at that point. Then you start losing to some players who you're not really thinking you should lose to. It's frustrating.

"I was hoping eventually it was going to turn around. I made the semi-finals of the US Open. Since then I've been playing really consistent and really well.

"Being here tonight as a grand slam champion, Australian Open champion, it's very special. Daphne here is going home with me tonight. I'll be cuddling with her."

The Daphne in question is the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, and whichever one of Wozniacki or Halep was left holding it, it would be tough to argue they did not deserve it.

Halep also lost her first two grand slam finals, both at the French Open, while both women had saved match points on their way to the final, with the Romanian doing so against both Lauren Davis and Angelique Kerber.

Ultimately the extra energy the Romanian had expended may have made the difference. She was fighting off cramp during the second set and had her blood pressure checked by the doctor after feeling dizzy in the hot and humid conditions.

Wozniacki led 2-0 and 3-1 in the decider but Halep dug her heels in and looked to have the momentum when she broke for 4-3. But a medical time-out for Wozniacki to have her left knee strapped changed things again and, when she got a chance on the Halep serve, she took it.

The final two points summed up the encounter and the women's tournament, which has been utterly compelling. Wozniacki showed tremendous powers of defence to repel Halep and then collapsed to the ground in tears when the Romanian's final shot hit the net.

"When I saw that ball go into the net, it was crazy emotional," said the 27-year-old, who becomes the first Dane to win a grand slam singles title.

Wozniacki was all too aware, though, that the emotions were very different across the other side of the net as Halep was forced to come to terms with another near miss.

But the 26-year-old reflected proudly on her efforts and looked ahead to the future with optimism.

"I can still smile," she said. "It's fine. I cried, but now I'm smiling. It's just a tennis match in the end.

"She was better. She was fresher. I was really tired. I had so many problems in my feet, pain everywhere. But I think I did pretty well with all the things that were going on. I came back in the third set, but when I had to serve for 5-3, the gas was gone.

"I did 100 per cent what I could today. That's why I can say that I'm not sad for that. I'm sad that I lost the match, I was not the winner, but life goes on. For sure in the future, if I keep working like this and I keep playing like this, I will be in a good position again.

"Both had to show those qualities on their progress through the draw, with Halep becoming the first player in the Open era to reach a slam final having saved match points in multiple matches, while Wozniacki recovered from 1-5 15-40 against Jana Fett in round two.

There was certainly nothing passive about Wozniacki as she stormed into a 3-0 lead, Halep simply unable to deal with the Dane's backhand down the line.

She was virtually flawless until she served for the set at 5-3, when the nerves kicked in and Halep broke back. But Wozniacki stepped things up again impressively in the tie-break and this time did not blink.

This was already new ground for Wozniacki, who had never previously won a set in a slam final. She looked determined not to let her momentum slide but Halep, whose marathon matches appeared finally to be catching up with her, dug in with grit to save four break points in the third game of the second set.

Two games later she called for the doctor and had her blood pressure checked, with the hot and humid conditions sapping the strength she had left.

However, it was Wozniacki who showed the first sign of weakness in the set, her forehand losing its penetration as Halep broke for 5-3 despite appearing close to cramping.

Wozniacki had three chances to break back but Halep's tournament has been characterised by an absolute refusal to be beaten and, with the carrot of a 10-minute break with the heat rule in effect, she battled across the line.

The final set was a mental and physical examination for both. Wozniacki led 2-0 and 3-1 but both times Halep battled back and, when she broke for 4-3, the momentum seemed to be with the top seed.

But Wozniacki took a medical time-out to have her left knee strapped and promptly turned the match around again. A sublime point, showcasing her defensive and offensive skills, set up match point, and this time Halep had no resistance left.

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