By Jane Voigt
Championship tennis is not fair. One wins and one loses on little more than a point. Today, Caroline Wozniacki secured that slim margin and prevailed in an epic duel of two evenly-matched players both seeking their first major title and number-one spot in women’s tennis.
“I never cry,” Wozniacki said on Rod Laver Arena, immediately following her win, 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4. “Today is a dream come true. It’s a very emotional moment. I’m going to cry.”
“Of course I’m sad,” Halep admitted. “But Caroline did better than me.”
Wozniacki played in her first Grand Slam final nine years ago and had held the number one ranking in 2011-2012. Always criticized for not having won a major as number one, she can now toss that annoying monkey off her back.
“It puts a golden stamp on her career,” Chris Evert said, calling the match for ESPN.
As Wozniacki tightly held the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, Halep look on nothing less than gutted. The loss in another major final was her third in three appearances, all of them going the distance of three sets.
“Maybe the fourth time will be with luck,” Halep said, with a slight smile.
For the record, both women should have been out of the draw rounds ago. Yet each held off match points to advance.
“Regardless of ups and downs in my career, I never give up,” Wozniacki told the press, after her come-from-behind win in the second round.
Halep had spent close to 12 hours on court before a ball was struck, during this final. With temperatures hovering in the mid-80s and humidity high, their fight, conviction and commitment astonished all viewers.
“I’m sorry I had to win,” Wozniacki said to Halep, voicing a sentiment shared by millions, not because she’d won but because the match was so fiercely contested.
Halep out did Wozniacki in some stats: on winners, aces, service games won, return games won and total games won, yet she lost. That points to their ground games, mental toughness and energy levels, where Wozniacki squeaked ahead even when Halep had saved 7 out of 7 break points in two games that exceeded 10 minutes.
Both players had medical time outs, as well. Halep, in the second, had her blood pressure taken and her oxygen levels checked. In the third, Wozniacki had her knee taped. The 10-minute break between the second and third sets — because the Extreme Heat Policy was in effect — was just what they needed.
As the match inched forward in the third, balls landed shorter. Second serves barely clocked 70 mph. Receivers won four out of the first five games; and, Wozniacki’s go-to defenses lagged while Halep hit winners down the line, giving hope to ardent fans.
The game Wozniacki had built her career on — retrieving — was what saved her today. Her stutter-step footwork, a backhand that didn’t quit and her keen ability to redirect the ball accentuated her game.
“I would love to be in that position again, to win a first major,” Roger Federer said yesterday. “It’s a cool place. You have to keep trying and believing. I just remember winning my first major. It just rocked my world.”
Wozniacki’s world was so rocked she fell on her back in relief, after realizing she’d finally won her first Grand Slam. Halep went to the sideline and put a towel over her head, following the obligatory hand shake at the net. The loss was her first for the season and one she won’t forget for some time.
“I can still smile,” Halep admitted in press. “It’s fine. I cried, but now I’m smiling. I was close again, but the gas was over in the end. She was fresher. She had more energy in the end.”
Wozniacki will be favored to win up-coming tournaments, namely Indian Wells and the Miami Open. However, Halep, who has played in two Roland Garros finals will be favored on the slippery European red clay. Nonetheless, Serena Williams, who is scheduled to play the first round of Fed Cup next month will have something to say about these projections.
All speculation aside, when this champion — Caroline Wozniacki — walked into the press room, champagne corks popped, according to Bill Simon of Inside Tennis.