Halep's epic win keeps grand slam dream alive

Simona Halep playing against Angelique Kerber on Rod Laver arena,  Australian Open. 25th January 2018 The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO
Simona Halep playing against Angelique Kerber on Rod Laver arena, Australian Open. 25th January 2018 The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

This year's Australian Open will herald a new women's grand slam champion after Simona Halep joined Caroline Wozniacki in Saturday night's final.After an epic semi-final between Halep and Angelique Kerber that was finally decided with a pulsating 9-7 final set as the sun started to go down at Melbourne Park, the women's No.1 ranking will also be up for grabs.

Halep advanced to her first final in Melbourne - and third major final overall - after a stunning match that lasted two hours and 20 minutes on Rod Laver Arena, the Romanian edging the German 6-3, 4-6, 9-7.

Three times previously this pair had played out three-set contests. And three times previously Halep had ruled supreme.

But this contest was on a whole new level. A spot in a major final was on the line. Kerber was striving to race up the rankings after her forgettable 2017 that had followed her breakout 2016, highlighted by her first grand slam win in Melbourne.It was a gripping contest that featured some wonderful rallies. So many times the two had tested each other out, sent scampering deep for balls, many returns somehow finally their way back on court.

Halep had more relief that joy after pulling through for victory. She had led 5-0 in the first set and then 3-1 in the second set. A defeat here would have stayed with her for a long time.

"I'm shaking now. I'm very emotional," Halep said on-court. "I knew before the match it was going to be very tough.

"I'm really glad that I could resist and win this match."

Halep acknowledged that her injured ankle had affected her across the two weeks, but was adamant she would push the limits with the joint.

Last Saturday, remember, she needed a 28-game final set to overcome American Lauren Davis, finally claiming it 15-13 in another epic contest. She is indeed the marathon woman of the Australian Open.

"Now I will have a big rest after this tournament," Halep said."If you don't give up you can win the match in the end. I'm pretty proud of myself."

The final set, lasting 69 minutes, was both pulsating and topsy-turvy.

Halep had first served for the match at 5-3 but Kerber, in typical style, fought back. A remarkable backhand winner by the German after an extraordinary 26-shot rally at 30-30 gave her a break point. It was the only one she needed.

The match ebbed and flowed after that moment before Halep, once again, got within sight of victory in the 16th game.

Cruelly, it was an unforced error from the German's racquet that finally decided it. It did not detract from her performance.For Kerber, everything is on the up. She came to Australia with new-found belief and won the Sydney International in an excellent preparation for the Open.Players across the WTA Tour are now fully aware that she's back, and back in a big way.Halep won the overall points count - 116 to 103 - and fully deserves her finals spot. Halep's showdown with Wozniacki on Saturday will be a keenly awaited finale.

Seeds have tumbled at various stages in the women's competition but, in the end, the two best players in the world will fight out for their first major.Wozniacki has the edge 4-2 but, in reality, head-to-head records and past encounters will count for nought.

Both players have been to major finals before, but neither player in Melbourne, and they will be acutely aware that opportunities like this may not present again.

This story Halep's epic win keeps grand slam dream alive first appeared on The Age.