Caroline Wozniacki claimed her maiden Grand Slam title with an epic 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-4 win over Simona Halep in the Australian Open women’s final on Saturday.
The second-seeded Dane also claimed the world No 1 ranking from Halep, exactly six years after relinquishing it at the 2012 Australian Open.
Wozniacki, who was presented with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy by Billie Jean King, said: “I’m just taking a second here to hug Daphne.
“This is a very emotional moment. It’s been an incredible two weeks. I want to congratulate Simona. I know today is a tough day. It was an incredible match, an incredible fight – I’m sorry.
“I want to thank my team, my dad. You’ve stood by me every step of the way. Thank you everyone for coming out today, it’s been a special moment.”
Wozniacki was the more assured player in the early stages and she quickly raced into a commanding 3-0 lead. But Halep upped the aggression, losing just four points on serve en route to breaking back and sending the opening set into a tie-break.
But it was the 27-year-old Wozniacki, twice a losing finalist at the US Open, who stepped up again, drilling her backhand down the line, to claim it 7-2.
Halep was the bookmakers’ favourite but the head-to-head record favoured Wozniacki, who was playing in her 43rd Grand Slam, as the slug-fest entertained a raucous crowd on Rod Laver Arena.
Halep, who survived two more match points in an extraordinary final set against Angelique Kerber in the semi-finals, fended off four break-point chances for Wozniacki in the third game of second set, but was ailing significantly in hot and humid conditions, with the trainer called at one point to take her blood pressure.
The 26-year-old appeared heavy legged and wobbly, but it was Wozniacki who showed the first sign of weakness as Halep somehow conjured up enough energy to break in the eight game. The Dane had three chances to break back
but could not take them and Halep put a bad miss on her first set point behind her to pull level.
With the heat rule in effect, the players were given a 10-minute break between sets which appeared to be a big relief for Halep, who looked close to cramping.
It was becoming compelling viewing with six breaks of serve in a gruelling first eight games of the final set shoot-out.
Halep was appearing to gain momentum before it was the turn of the reigning WTA Finals champion Wozniacki to take a medical time-out due to a problem with her left knee, but she returned to level up at 4-4 before holding serve.
And the Dane brought up championship point following a lung-busting rally, showcasing her defensive and offensive skills, before collapsed to the court when Halep netted her backhand after two hours and 49 minutes of captivating action.
Halep, speaking on the court after the match, said: “I want to congratulate Caroline, it’s unbelievable.
“It’s been a great tournament for me. I started not very well with an ankle injury but I am glad to play a Grand Slam final. I have many years to go, so hopefully I will face another challenge like this today.”