Tennis

Halep, Wozniacki in winner-takes-all final

A new Grand Slam winner will be crowned as top-two women's seeds enter final

Caroline Wozniacki came through a late bout of nerves to reach the Australian Open final for a first time with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/2) victory over Belgian Elise Mertens yesterday, giving herself another shot at winning a maiden Grand Slam title.

The 27-year-old Dane, who has fallen at the final hurdle at the 2009 US Open and again in 2014, will meet top seed Simona Halep in tomorrow's final, with both the title and the world No. 1 ranking going to the winner.

Halep squandered two match-points and saved two before winning 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in a see-saw 2hr 20min contest against 2016 champion Angelique Kerber.

Following last year's US Open title match between champion Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, the Melbourne Park decider will be the second consecutive Grand Slam final featuring two players bidding for their first Major trophy.

However, it will be the first time it has happened in Australia since Hana Mandlikova won her maiden Slam against home hope Wendy Turnbull back in 1980.

Wozniacki dominated her second semi-final until she was 5-4 (30-0) up and serving for the match against Mertens, but suddenly faltered with a pair of double-faults to allow her 22-year-old opponent back into the contest.

Mertens, playing only her fifth Grand Slam, took full advantage and, unleashing a string of winners, broke the former world No. 1 and even racked up two set-points.

Unlike in her 2011 semi-final against Li Na, when she blew a match-point, Wozniacki was able to recover her composure and saved them both on the back of a couple of booming serves.

After four deuces, Wozniacki held with a thumping forehand, then raced away with the ensuing tie-break.

It was a relief for the Dane, who admitted to being haunted for years by her semi-final loss to China's Li.

"I mean, we're seven years on and it's still there," said Wozniacki with a wry smile.

"That's the one that's been most disappointing to me throughout my career... That's one that hurt extra because it was going into the final of a Grand Slam."

Wozniacki spent 67 weeks as world No. 1 and is the only player to have won more than 25 WTA titles without claiming a Major title.

But she showed an aggressive edge to her game when she saved two match-points to battle back from 5-1 down in the third set to win her second-round match against Jana Fett last week.

Victory over Halep would take her back to the top of the world rankings but, having lost both her previous Grand Slam finals, finally landing a Major title would mean far more.

On meeting Wozniacki, who will also be in her third Grand Slam final and first in Australia, Halep said: "I respect her a lot... I will have to run, so (I'll need) a very good rest after this match.

"I want to give of my best to believe that I have the chance to win and not to think about the title." - REUTERS, AFP

Tennis