MELBOURNE, Australia — For all her success in tennis, from holding the No. 1 ranking for more than a year to winning 27 titles, one question had plagued Caroline Wozniacki’s career. Did she have what it takes to win a major?
It took 43 Grand Slam tournaments and two failed attempts in finals before Wozniacki ended her drought with a 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4 win over top-seeded Simona Halep in the Australian Open final on Saturday night.
Only three woman have taken longer to achieve their major breakthrough, a list topped by 2015 U.S. Open winner Flavia Pennetta (49).
“One of the most positive things about all of this — I’m never going to get that question again,” the 27-year-old Wozniacki said as she clung to the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. “I’m just waiting for the question ‘When are you going to win the second one?”’
So more than eight years after appearing in her first Grand Slam final at the 2009 U.S. Open — a straight sets loss to Kim Clijsters — Wozniacki has finally erased the “but never won a major” footnote on her resume.
“Obviously adding a Grand Slam to my CV is what caps it off . . . shows my whole career as a whole,” Wozniacki said. She’ll also regain the top ranking next week for the first time in six years — beating Serena Williams’ record of 5 years, 29 days between stints at No. 1 on the women’s tour — in another benefit of beating the top-seeded Halep.
Wozniacki lost two U.S. Open finals — in ‘09 and 2014 — and Halep lost two French Open finals before their meeting at Melbourne Park. It set up a first major final in the Open era between players ranked No. 1 and 2 who had never won a Grand Slam title.
Also, it was the first time that both Australian Open finalists had saved match points en route to the final. In Halep’s case, she was the first player who had saved match points in multiple matches. She saved triple match point in the third set to beat Laura Davis 15-13 in the third set of her third-round match. She also saved match points in her semifinal against Angelique Kerber.
Wozniacki saved match points in her second-round win over Jana Fett and said from then on she was “playing with the house money.”
So both players rolled the dice in the 2-hour, 49-minute final, which featured long, absorbing rallies, some gritty defense, a combined 65 clean winners and 10 service breaks. “I know that today is a tough day,” said Wozniacki, acknowledging Halep’s quest for a major. “I’m sorry I had to win today but I’m sure we’ll have many matches in the future. Incredible match, incredible fight. And again, I’m sorry.”
Halep was playing with an injured left ankle, needed treatment for dizziness in the second set and had rallied from a break down in the third set to lead 4-3 when Wozniacki took a medical time out to have her left knee taped. In the end, she just ran out of steam.
“It’s not easy to talk now,” Halep said. “It’s been a great tournament for me. Sad that I couldn’t make it the third time, maybe the fourth time will be with luck. I can still smile. I cried, but now I’m smiling.”
Wozniacki is the third first-time major winner in the four Grand Slam tournaments since Serena Williams won the 2017 Australian Open. Williams chose not to defend the title after taking time out following the birth of her first child in September. She didn’t watch the game, saying she gets too nervous, but Williams tweeted to congratulate her good friend Wozniacki. “New number one and aussie open champ. So awesome. So happy. Are those tears? Yup they are. From a year ago to today I’m so proud my friend so proud.”
Wozniaki had never won a set in a major final until she went on a roll late in the opening tiebreaker, having wasted a chance to serve for the set at 5-3.
Halep rallied in the second, on either side of treatment from the trainer for her blood pressure to be checked amid the hot and humid conditions. The players had a 10-minute break between the second and third sets, and Wozniacki come out quickly with an early break.
But Halep rallied again and, after an exchange of service breaks, she was leading 4-3 in the third when Wozniacki called for a medical timeout. The momentum shifted again, and Wozniacki set up championship point on Halep’s serve by retrieving and scrambling and eventually timing a forehand winner to finish off a stunning rally.
“That was a crazy point,” Wozniacki said. “We both played very well. I had that backhand cross-court. I knew at that point I have to hit it hard, I have to just go for it cross-court. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a great shot.”’
On match point, Halep stayed on the attack and Wozniacki tried to play deep, even framing some shots, before the Romanian netted backhand. “When I saw that ball go into the net,” Wozniacki said, “it was crazy emotional.”
She attributed it all to the comeback in the second round, when she was staring at another early exit. “From being almost out of the tournament to sitting here with the Australian Open trophy, it’s amazing,” Wozniacki said. “It’s been quite a turnaround. Something I’m very proud of.”