Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki both deserve to be grand slam champions. Both have been to the top of the WTA rankings, but neither has won on the game’s biggest stage. That will change for one of them after the Australian Open final.
Simona Halep (1) v. Caroline Wozniacki (2)
This match has more compelling storylines than any grand slam final since Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal faced off in last year’s Australian Open Men’s final. Jelena Ostapenko’s maiden slam just days after her 20th birthday was joyous. Federer’s romp to his record-breaking 8th Wimbledon title was cathartic. This match, however, has as much on the line emotionally as it does WORD. Which ever woman wins will: 1) Claim her first grand slam title. 2) Either remain (Halep) or become (Wozniacki) world number one. 3) Win a grand slam after saving match points. If Halep prevails she will become the first player, man or woman, to win a slam after being down match points in separate matches.
Halep has had, by far, the harder road to the final:
Round 1: Halep d. Aiava 7-6(4), 6-1
Round 2: Halep d. Bouchard 6-2, 6-2
Round 3: Halep d. Davis 4-6, 6-4, 15-13
Round 4: Halep d. Osaka 6-3, 6-2
Quarterfinal: Halep d. Pliskova 6-3, 6-2
Semifinal: Halep d. Kerber 6-3, 4-6, 9-7
Her two marathon matches in the third round and semifinal could prove fatal. Halep’s game is built on her counterpunching prowess and, should she be at all sluggish, Wozniacki will pounce. Though she has a similar style, Wozniacki also has a greater natural ability to hit harder both on her serve and during rallies, which will allow her to more easily exploit any weakness in her opponent.
Wozniacki has had her share of tough matches and, like Halep, has had to come back from the brink to reach the final:
Round 1: Wozniacki d. Buzarnescu 6-2, 6-3
Round 2: Wozniacki d. Fett 3-6, 6-2, 7-5
Round 3: Wozniacki d. Bertens 6-4, 6-3
Round 4: Wozniacki d. Rybarikova 6-3, 6-0
Quarterfinal: Wozniacki d. Suarez Navarro 6-0, (3)6-7, 6-2
Semifinal: Wozniacki d. Mertens 6-3, 7-6(2)
Wozniacki has been tested, but not to the extent Halep has. She will be fresher than her Romanian opponent and has a 4-2 lead in their head-to-head including a resounding 6-0, 6-2 victory over Halep at the WTA Finals in late November 2017. Wozniacki will be confident remembering not only that match, but also the feeling of triumphing for the first time at the year-end tournament. Halep was sub-par during the Finals, managing only one win before suffering heavy defeats to both Wozniacki and Elina Svitolina. The loss, extreme as the scoreline was, will not weigh too heavily on Halep who knew she was underperforming at that time.
The Halep who has showed up on court at the Australian Open this year has the bearing of a champion. She has raised her game when most needed, saved consecutive match points, and willed herself to hit shots that take her out of her comfort zone. When the occasion has called for it, she has played aggressive baseline tennis. When matched with her unparalleled ability to put extra balls in play, her commitment to aggressive shot making has kept her alive in the tournament. Most impressively, Halep has maintained a positive mentality and has matched her solid game to an unshakeable belief in her abilities. Wozniacki will test Halep in every way possible, but the world number one will find a way to win. The match will be close. Both women will have their chances. In the end, it will be a battle of mental strength and physical endurance. In both of those categories, Halep will prevail if only by the slimmest margin. While she has played longer matches, Halep is also one of, if not the, fastest, fittest players on tour and with her renewed mentality, it will be hard to find many chinks in her armor.
Prediction: Halep in three tight, hard fought, utterly thrilling set