MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — For both Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep, the Australian Open women’s final on Saturday is a chance to put the demons of past Grand Slam near-misses behind them.
One will finally walk away a champion. The other will have to shake off another loss in a major final and be left to wonder when, or if, another chance will come again.
They’ve had similar careers to this point: they are steady, consistent performers week-to-week who have climbed all the way to No. 1 based on the quantity — if not necessarily the quality — of their results.
At the Grand Slams, both are all too familiar with the role of runner-up — Wozniacki losing twice at the U.S. Open, Halep twice at Roland Garros.
And in a twist of fate, both enter the Australian Open final playing with what Wozniacki calls “house money” — they’ve each saved match points earlier in the tournament and feel they’re making the most of their second chances.
In Halep’s case, it’s actually a third chance. She saved match points against not one, but two opponents at Melbourne Park — Lauren Davis in the third round, and two-time major winner Angelique Kerber in the semifinal.
“I was not afraid of losing,” the top-seeded Halep said after surviving a thrilling, three-setter against Kerber. “I won those balls, and then I got the confidence back that I’m still alive and I can do it.”
Of the two, Wozniacki has had the longer wait for this moment. If she prevails on Saturday, it’ll be in her 43rd major tournament — the fourth-most appearances among women at the most elite level before winning a first Grand Slam title.
The 27-year-old Dane is also nine years removed from her first major final at the 2009 U.S. Open (a loss to Kim Clijsters). She then had a five-year wait for a second shot in New York, falling to Serena Williams in the 2014 final.
And now another 3 ½ long years for another opportunity.
“I always believed in myself,” Wozniacki said. “I was just giving myself time. I think if you don’t feel like you can go all the way in tournaments, then to me there’s no sense in playing. So for me it’s always I want to be competitive, I want to be the best, and that’s why I’m still playing.”
The 26-year-old Halep hasn’t had such long stretches between title chances — her losses came in the 2014 and 2017 French Opens to Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko, respectively — but she’s certainly endured the more heart-breaking defeats.
Halep was leading by a set and a break against Jelena Ostapenko at last year’s French Open before faltering down the stretch. And against Sharapova in 2014, Halep came in as the favorite but was broken at 4-all in the third set before losing a draining, three-hour final.
But Halep believes she’s turned a corner in the past year and is better able to handle pressure moments on the court. Her comeback from multiple match points down in Melbourne is a testament to a new mindset.
“I was in this position in the French Open, so maybe I can make a better match,” she said. “I feel more experienced. Also stronger mentally. And the way I play, it’s different. I feel I’m more aggressive.”
The bonus in Saturday night’s final is that winner also takes home the No. 1 ranking. It would be a six-year gap for Wozniacki if she achieves it. But both made clear this isn’t their goal.
“It’s also my dream, to win a Grand Slam title,” Halep said. “But, you know, it’s always tough when you are close.”
Wozniacki knows all too well how this feels — and she’s hoping the third time proves lucky for her.
“Regardless of what happens now, I’ve done my best,” she said. “I believe if you really put everything into it, eventually things are going to go your way.”