By Ros Satar, in Melbourne

  • Saturday will see a maiden Slam winner crowned as Australian Open Women’s champion 2018
  • The World No. 1 spot is also at stake
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – The World Nos. 1 and 2 will do battle for not only a first major title, and the World No. 1 spot.

 

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Simona Halep [1] v Caroline Wozniacki [2] | H2H: Wozniacki leads 4-2

For the first time since the 2015 final, the top two players in wotrld will not only fight for a first Slam title, but the fate of he top spot also rests on this match.

 

Simona Halep – Path to the final

  • R1: Destanee Aiava [WC] 7-6(5) 6-1
  • R2: Eugenie Bouchrd 6-2 6-2
  • R3: Lauren Davis 4-6 6-4 15-13
  • R4: Naomi Osaka 6-3 6-2
  • QF: Karolina Pliskova [6] 6-3 6-2
  • SF: Angelique Kerber [21] 6-3 4-6 9-7

Simona Halep has not shied away from the pressure that comes with the top spot. We have seen with the likes of Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber that the No. 1 ranking has proved to be more of a curse than a blessing. Yet Halep has always welcomed being in this spot – and now comes a new challenge.

In her first Slam final in 2014, she was very much the underdog against Maria Sharapova, and her flurry to level the match and scamper to the best of her ability impressed many, but no one expected her to lift the title on that occasion.

However 2017 was a very different affair – she was very much the favourite against the feisty and ultimately fearless Jelena Ostapenko – and from a position of supremacy, Halep froze, and ultimately Ostapenko went for it and reaped the reward.

Add to that a nasty ankle turn at the start of the tournament in her first match, and you get the sense that Halep had to do a lot of level setting – she played down the ankle injury but allowed for the fact that fater two first round exits in the last two years at the Australian Open, any wins were a bonus here.

Her epic battle against Lauren Davis was only surpassed (in quality, not volume) with her battle against 2016 champion Kerber. It was one of those matches you wish they could both win. But Halep is now in her first Australian Open final, her first on hard courts, and after weathering all the storms that Melbourne has thrown at her – it is one last push.

Caroline Wozniacki – Path to the final

Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of the Australian Open, 2018

Caroline Wozniacki in the second round of the Australian Open, 2018 | Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

  • R1: Mihaela Burzarnescu 6-2 6-3
  • R2: Jana Fett 3-6 6-2 7-5
  • R3: Kiki Bertens 6-4 6-3
  • R4: Magdalena Rybarikova 6-3 6-0
  • QF: Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0 6-7(3) 6-2
  • SF: Elise Mertens 6-3 7-6(2)

On the other side of the court will be Caroline Wozniacki – who has probably had to shoulder the burden of the pitiful name-alling of ‘Slamless No. 1’ that accompanied her achievements for consistency on the tour.

After being at the top of the game, injuries and a change in the power-balance of balance saw Wozniacki slip from the higher echelons of the rankings, and while always a dangerous player, she seems to lack the same kind of punch.

Any attenmpts to switch from her typical passage of play and switch coaches were always short lived, and it seemed like she would not really keep in contention with the rest of the tour.

However her push at the end of the year, which included snapping her losing streak against Venus Williams to scoop the WTA Finals title showed that perhaps there was still room for a player who can counterpunch with the best of them, but can add attack to her array of tools.

 

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The Match Up

On paper this is looking tough for Halep – Wozniacki has won the last three matches on three different surfaces, with their last encounter being at the WTA Finals in Singapore where Halep was at least assured of the World No. 1 spot but went out at the end of the Round Robin stages.

Wozniacki played some of her most aggressive tennis on that occasion, and has always been capable of that kind of play, but it seems to come more easily to Halep. In all but two of their six matches they have gone the distance, and you get a sense that Halep will have to find it in her to grind out one more epic to earn that elusive Slam.

Both have had to save match points en route to the final, in a match that sees a World No. 1 and 2 reach a final together without having won a Grand Slam. In Halep’s case she has saved multiple match point in multiple matches and still lived to tell the tale.

Halep is unbeaten so far in 2018, going 11-0 coming into the final, while Wozniacki is not doing too badly either, going 10-1.

Halep has spent more time on the court, and that ankle has been a concern for her since the first match, but coming through the epics with Davis and Kerber has given her strength. Moreover, her mental fortitude in the semi-final where she started to have doubts as Kerber fought back and then hung on has maybe given her the belief that this is her time.

It might not be the prettiest tennis we see out there on Saturday, but it will be a fascinating battle.

Prediction: Halep in three sets.

 

 

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