Sport Tennis Australian Open Australian Open 2018: Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki to face off in final
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Australian Open 2018: Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki to face off in final

Australian Open Simona Halep
Simona Halep (pictured) and Caroline Wozniacki will both be chasing an elusive first grand slam triumph on Saturday night. Photo: AAP
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The world’s top two players will clash in the Australian Open women’s final after Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki set up a mouth-watering climax to the season’s first grand slam at Melbourne Park.

Wozniacki exorcised the demons of her harrowing 2011 semi-final loss to Li Na with a 6-3 7-6 (7-2) triumph over Elise Mertens on Thursday before an heroic Halep staved off two match points to deny Angelique Kerber 6-3 4-6 9-7 in one of the most gripping last-four showdowns seen in years.

Halep and Wozniacki will both be chasing an elusive first grand slam triumph on Saturday night – as well as duelling for the world’s top ranking.

Remarkably, as if destined to meet in the winner-takes-all shootout, Halep and Wozniacki both saved match points in huge first-week frights to keep their Open dreams alive.

Wozniacki battled back from 5-1 and 40-15 down in the second set of her second-round Houdini act against Croatian Jana Fett before Halep fought off three match points in her epic third-round triumph over American Lauren Davis.

Australian Open Caroline Wozniacki
Wozniacki battled back from 5-1 and 40-15 down in the second set of her second-round against Croatian Jana Fett. Photo: AAP

The Halep-Davis encounter stretched almost three-and-three-quarter hours, with their 48 games played matching the Melbourne Park record for a women’s match.

Halep has also carried an ankle injury throughout the tournament.

But the big-hearted Romanian showed no signs of hindrance or discomfort in an extraordinary display of courage under fire on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.

After blowing a pair of match points in the 10th game of the deciding set against Kerber, the exhausted top seed looked down and out trailing 6-5, 40-15 on the German’s serve.

But, with some remarkable scrambling and counter-punching, Halep rallied to turn the rollercoaster semi-final around and finally subdue Kerber after two hours and 20 minutes of high-quality and tension-filled tennis.

“Well, definitely it was very tough. I’m shaking now. I’m really emotional to win this match,” Halep said.

“I knew it was going to very tough and that she is a very tough opponent.

“She’s moving really well and she’s hitting from everywhere, so I’m really glad that I could resist and I could win this match.

“It was the second long one, which is not easy in the same tournament.”

Twice a runner-up at Roland Garros, in 2014 and 2017, Halep will be opposing a two-time US Open bridesmaid after Wozniacki earlier also progressed to her maiden Melbourne Park decider with a straight-sets victory against another player previously unconquered this summer.

Like Halep, though, Wozniacki had to overcome her own mental demons.

“I was here in the semi-finals in 2011 and I was serving for the match against Li Na and I had a match point, and I lost it and that was definitely on my mind out there today,” Wozniacki said after enduring a second-set wobble while serving for the match.

But Wozniacki regrouped to dominate the tiebreak and progress to her third grand slam final, having lost to Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams in the 2009 and 2015 title matches in New York.

“I tried to stay calm and I was lucky to get a win,” Wozniacki said.

“Obviously I have been here before. I’ve been in this situation before.

“I would like to think you learn every time and you kind of know how the opponent is feeling at the time too.

“So once I started my own service game on the other side, that’s okay. She’s nervous now too.”

-AAP