MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Caroline Wozniacki came through a late bout of nerves to reach the Australian Open final for a first time with a 6-3 7-6(2) victory over Belgian Elise Mertens on Thursday, giving herself another shot at winning a maiden grand slam title.
The Dane, who has fallen at the final hurdle at the 2009 U.S. Open and again in 2014, will meet top seed Simona Halep in Saturday’s final, with both the title and the world number one ranking going to the winner.
Following last year’s U.S. Open title match between champion Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys, the Melbourne Park decider will be the second consecutive grand slam final featuring two players bidding for their first major trophy.
However, it will be the first time it has happened in Australia since Hana Mandlikova won her maiden slam against home hope Wendy Turnbull back in 1980.
Wozniacki dominated her second Melbourne Park semi-final until she was 5-4, 30-0 up and serving for the match against Mertens but suddenly faltered with a pair of double-faults to allow her 22-year-old opponent back into the contest.
Mertens, playing only her fifth grand slam, took full advantage and, unleashing a string of winners, broke the former world number one and even racked up two set points.
Unlike in her 2011 semi-final against Li Na, when she blew a match point, Wozniacki was able to recover her composure and saved them both on the back of a couple of booming serves.
After four deuces, the 27-year-old held with a thumping forehand then raced away with the ensuing tiebreak.
It was a relief for the Dane, who admitted to being haunted for years by her semi-final loss against China’s Li.
“I mean, we’re seven years on and it’s still there,” she told reporters with a wry smile.
“I think that’s the one that’s been most disappointing to me throughout my career... That’s one of the ones that hurt extra because it was going into the finals of a grand slam.”
Wozniacki spent 67 weeks as world number one and is the only player to have won more than 25 WTA titles without claiming a major title.
She lost six successive tour finals in 2017 but showed a more aggressive edge to her game when she saved two match points to battle back from 5-1 down in the third set to win her second round match against Jana Fett last week.
“As I said early on in the week, I could have been home already,” said Wozniacki, who was clearly feeling lucky.
“We’ve been at the casino a couple of times, won a couple hundred dollars,” added the Dane, after securing at least a A$2 million ($1.62 million) cheque by making the final. The winner gets A$4 million.
“I‘m on a plus so far. We may go in and play a couple of hundred again, see how it goes.”
Victory over Halep would take her back to the top of the world rankings but, having lost both her previous grand slam finals, finally landing a major title would mean far more.
“I believe if you really put everything into it, eventually things are going to go your way,” she said. “Win or lose, I‘m going to be very proud of my efforts these two weeks.”
Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by John O'Brien