Caroline Wozniacki (left) and Simona Halep will face off in the Australian Open women's final.
Caroline Wozniacki (left) and Simona Halep will face off in the Australian Open women's final. WALLACE WOON

Major pain to end for one

TENNIS: Almost two hours after she, finally, dismissed Angelique Kerber on Thursday in what became a classic Melbourne Park semi-final, the world's top-ranked player was asked the leading question.

"What would it mean to become a big tournament champion?”

"Bigger than number one, honestly,” Simona Halep said.

"It's also my dream, to win a grand slam title. But, it's always tough when you are close. I had this opportunity two times. The last one was very close.”

Which it was, Halep toppled by Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko at last year's French Open to go with a defeat, also in Paris, at her only other slam final, in 2014. On the downside, that's just two finals from 30 Grand Slams.

Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in action Elise Mertens of Belgium during the womens semifinal match on day eleven at the Australian Open tennis tournament,  in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday January 25, 2018.  (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Caroline Wozniacki reacts after winning a point. LUKAS COCH

Her opponent today, Caroline Wozniacki has fared little better, two finals losses from 42 attempts by the world No.2.

Which poses the question. How can two such players, and they can be formidable, sit atop the rankings without a Grand Slam win in sight?

It will change, rightly, today with Halep and Wozniacki, so close in the rankings that the win will not only clinch the Australian Open, and $4 million prizemoney, but the No.1 slot too.

And crucially for two players who, in tennis terms are no spring chickens (the Dane is a year older at 27) it will be deeply carthartic. They should, even in this time of Serena, have done so much more.

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki makes a forehand return to Belgium's Elise Mertens during their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Caroline Wozniacki on the run against Elise Mertens. Dita Alangkara

Wozniacki has topped the rankings for 67 weeks but long faced sneers that she is a pretender.

Her 2011 Australian Open semi-final loss to Li Na, when she had a match point on serve is an albatross even now.

"We're seven years on and it's still there,” she said when asked about 'that' loss. "I think you just learn all the time.

"I've had matches where I've been down match points and I've won them, and you learn something from that. You've been up match points, and lost it.

"At the end of the day, all we can do is take your moment, take your time, just go for it when you have the opportunity.”

Indeed, 10 days ago she was practically down and out against Croatia's Jana Fett, 5-1 and match point down but aggressive resolve saw her through.

Simona Halep was unable to halt Kiki Bertens' comeback. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Simona Halep hammers a backhand return in her semi-final win over Angelique Kerber. LUKAS COCH

Halep also, against Kerber in Thursday's emi-final, was match point down and looked on her way home but pulled through. There is a smooth symmetry running through this final.

Both combatants in Saturday's final are more comfortable at the baseline. Halep more fidgety and fleet of foot, Wozniacki with the greater weight of shot. They will want the title equally, desperately.

Halep may find encouragement in the stats which show that over the past 40 years, whenever the No.1 ranked player has faced the No.2, the top-ranked player has triumphed 63 per cent of the time.