January 27, 2018
An ecstatic Caroline Wozniacki dropped to the floor and lay there with her head in her hands, the tears of relief and realisation already flowing.
At long last she had won her first Grand Slam title. It must have been hard to take in. A joy almost too immense to handle after so many barren years.
Collecting the Daphne Ankhurst Memorial Cup from Billie-Jean King, Caroline composed herself and said: ‘I’m just taking a second here to hug Daphne. I dreamed of this moment for so many years. I never cry but it’s a very emotional moment. Sorry I had to win Simona, I’m sure we’ll have many matches in the future.’
The Dane deserved it. She had refused to give in all fortnight, and so it was again, even on the ultimate point, which she really had no right to win.
Sent to both corners, desperate defence, a never-say-die spirit. Too much for her tired and frustrated opponent. Finally, Caroline’s temperament had served her well in the biggest moments, and she was able to beat Simona Halep 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-4.
Poor Halep – three Grand Slam finals and no title. She will regret a double fault in the last game, and a failure to clear the net with a careless backhand at match point.
Wozniacki, her own serve more than shaky at times, had won the war of attrition in two hours and fifty minutes on a humid Melbourne evening, when nerves jangled and stamina was tested.
In the end it all boiled down to who wanted it most.
‘Of course I’m sad I couldn’t win, but Caroline was better than me today,’ claimed Halep. In truth there was precious little to choose between them.
What a final! Mini-chokes, anger with the crowd, heat exhaustion, blood pressure checks…marathon games, mega-rallies, the heat rule…and finally a winner.
We probably should have expected nothing less from two women who had saved match points on the way to the big one.
Neither could bear the thought of losing. Neither had won a Grand Slam before. It had to be now. But it was still so hot and humid. Hardly the best conditions in which to play the match of your life.
Who would be the last woman standing? Who would throw it all away?
Historically, both Halep and Wozniacki have had their moments of psychological frailty while under great pressure and expectation. Their careers reflect as much. World number ones without major titles…but that had to change in Melbourne for one of them.
Not for the first time this fortnight, Halep was caught cold. Wozniacki raced to a 3-0 lead and then stormed to 5-2. Halep held, leaving the Dane to serve for the first set.
At 0-15, Caroline was distracted and annoyed by noise from the crowd between serves. It shouldn’t have caused her such a problem, but it did.
Predictably, perhaps, she was broken and the set went all the way to a tie-break. This time it was Halep’s turn to crumble under the pressure. She never led and Caroline raced away to take the breaker 7-2.
Simona knew she had to take the second set but she was tested to the limit as early as the third game. Before holding, she had to fight off three break points, and compose herself during no fewer than six deuces.
No wonder her body began to complain in the heat. After holding again to edge 3-2 ahead, Halep had to sit with an ice-pack on her neck while her blood pressure was checked.
She fought on stubbornly and broke to go 5-3 ahead. Wozniacki’s first serve percentage had dropped from 72 to 43, a back story reflective of the way the two sets went.
Wozniacki hadn’t run out of spirit, though. She pushed and probed to earn break points of her own, as the jittery Romanian struggled to serve out the set.
But Halep was not to be denied parity. She held her nerve for long enough to clinch it 6-3 and go level in the match.
The heat rule then came into play, both women left the stage for a while, then returned to slug it out from the baseline once more.
Wozniacki drew first blood, Halep looked set to reply, then fluffed her lines once more. Sensing her chance, Caroline moved in for the kill and turned that second game on its head for a vital break.
Simona had chances to break back. She surely knew she had to take her chances. She didn’t, not at first, anyway. Wozniacki dug in for yet another marathon third game.
The taller woman had plenty of opportunities to take a 3-0 lead. But she seemed to tighten each time, or else Simona found something extra.
Finally, at the end of that epic mini-battle, involving six more deuces, Halep emerged triumphant thanks to a Wozniacki double fault.
The final set was back on serve. For Wozniacki, these were testing moments mentally. How would she cope?
She broke…then allowed herself to be broken once more, as her serve stuttered and faltered under fierce examination. Back on serve, 3-2 to Caroline, who would blink next? What would it cost them?
Wozniacki, agonisingly for her, failed to stay solid in the face of Halep’s onslaught. She was broken yet again, after Simona had held. Caroline called for the trainer, complaining about her left leg, and had it taped below the knee.
The current world number one was serving to go 5-3. It looked ominous for Wozniacki. And yet, just when she surely had to break back to keep her hopes alive, she did exactly that, to level them match.
Then she did something she had struggled to do so often – she held serve. Now she was just one game from victory. Could Halep hold too?
With one last phenomenal effort, Wozniacki pulled out her best tennis to force her way to match point. Simona hadn’t been intimidated by match points before. But Caroline Wozniacki had waited a long time to call herself a Grand Slam winner. For a distraught Halep, the search goes on.