Wozniacki wins battle of attrition to claim elusive grand slam title

Caroline Wozniacki def Simona Halep 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-4

Caroline Wozniacki has broken through. Finally. After an extraordinary and energy-sapping women's final against Simona Halep, the Dane can now call herself a major winner after a remarkable triumph at the Australian Open.

The pair, rightfully sitting at numbers one and two in the world, slugged it out on a muggy night in Melbourne, Wozniacki eventually winning 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-4 after nearly three hours on court.

This was a brilliant match to end a compelling women's competition. In many ways it was survival of the fittest and, on this night, it was Wozniacki who was in front at the end. It could have easily gone the other way.

The final set, replete with many twists and turns, went 71 minutes by itself. Wozniacki was rejuvenated by a medical time-out at 4-3 down, getting treatment on her knee, and went on to close it out. At that point, technically the first time Wozniacki had been behind, Halep looked the better prospect. It was not to be for the Romanian.

As with all things that take time, sometimes they're even more special at the end. The Dane needed only one championship point and was elated when it went her way. The tears quickly ran down her cheeks as the emotion overcame her.

"I am just taking a second here to hug Daphne. I have dreamt of this moment for so many years," Wozniacki said later at the presentation.

"I am sorry I had to win today. It was an incredible match, an incredible fight."

Wozniacki, the women's tour veteran so often cited near the top of lists of players who should have won a major, reached her own personal Everest with this memorable and gruelling three-set win.

It was appropriate, too, that Wozniacki's first major victory also delivers The Great Dane top billing in women's tennis - for the first time in six years.

For Halep, who injured her ankle in the first round of the Open, stared down match points early in the tournament and played three epic matches across the two weeks - including Saturday's night gripping final - it was a somewhat cruel way to lose and also give up top billing in women's tennis.

She, too, was desperately seeking a breakthough major.

In reality, there were no real losers. Halep dug deep in the second set, when she looked physically gone and wrung out, before regaining her composure and, amazingly, evening up the contest.

The final set was topsy-turvy. Breaks of serve were more commonplace than holds. The third game of the decider, in particular, was indicative of the contest. Halep was trailing 0-2 and needed six break points to get back in the match, a Wozniacki double fault given Halep the game. They'd played 34 minutes in the final set. A near midnight finish was possible.

From the start on a humid Melbourne night, with the crowd poised and expectant, Wozniacki got an early edge. In the second game, on Halep's serve, the Romanian showed a few nervy moments and the Dane pounced. Patently, too often Halep just doesn't start well, and this trait was again on show.

Not before long, Wozniacki had turned her opponent's jittery start into an eye-catching 3-0 lead, holding serve to love with her second service game.

So, once again, Halep would be forced to recover from an early deficit. She had done it more than once already this tournament. To recover, her modus operandi would be to simply start swinging.

"Something happens in her brain when she's losing. She just goes for more shots," respected analyst and former player Chris Evert said on ESPN.

Wozniacki faced some pressure on serve and, in one compelling rally in particular, came up with a massive save to keep Halep at bay. It went 17 shots and ended with a forehand passing winner. It was then 5-2 to Wozniacki and the first set was within reach.

But some things are not as simple as they seem. Some noises emanating from the crowd in a jam-packed Rod Laver Arena seemed to irritate Wozniacki, perhaps from the small but vocal contingent of pro-Halep supporters.

A string of three unforced errors from the Dane's racquet gave Halep her moment and she pounced. Now at 4-5, a potential tie-break was in the offing.

That's what eventuated. But the 'breaker was also time for Wozniacki to step up. She continued her pattern of strong first serves and it paid off, conceding just two points in closing out the set.

After 50 minutes of compelling tennis, Wozniacki was looking the goods. For Halep the work was all ahead of her.

Both Halep and Wonziacki held serve impressively to open the second set. The third game was the most decisive of all.

Halep kept her nose in front but not without a massive challenge from across the net. The game went for more than 11 minutes as Wozniacki couldn't quite convert one of her four break point chances.

In contrast, Wozniacki held next in a fraction of the time. Racing to 40-0, the Dane was stepping up the pressure. Halep got two more points back but it was an ominous sign.

Then, Halep's arduous road to Saturday night's final started to become apparent. Halep seemed to be doing all things just a little bit harder.

That was never more evident than at 3-2 when, despite holding serve with a little more ease, the Romanian called for medical assistance.

Were things finally catching up with the marathon woman of the Australian Open? The trainer was out to check her blood pressure. Halep was looking strung out by a gruelling two-week campaign.

Looking somewhat distressed and with obvious fatigue taking its toll, she managed to break and, all of a sudden, she led 5-3.

Against all odds, Halep levelled the contest with her third set point and, in the blink of an eye, captivated fans on centre court were setting themselves for a decider.

Just for added drama, the heat rule came into effect and both players had the chance to reset with a 10-minute break. They had earned it.

This story Wozniacki wins battle of attrition to claim elusive grand slam title first appeared on The Age.