MELBOURNE, Australia - At long last, Caroline Wozniacki is a Grand Slam champion, clinching her maiden major title and securing a return to World No.1 with a 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4 win over top seed Simona Halep.
"I think last year, already for a year and a half, I've proved that I can beat anyone out there on court," an exultant Wozniacki said in her post-championship press conference. "When you're in the finals, I'm not going to lie, I was really nervous before going out there on court, but once I kind of settled in and we had the warmup, I thought, 'I have everything to win.'
"At the end of the day, whatever happens happens. I'm going to go out fighting. If it's not enough today, then it is what it is, but I'm going to be proud of my effort."
Both women were playing their third Grand Slam final and their first Down Under. Wozniacki showed the form that took her to last year's BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global when it mattered most, recovering from a break down in the final set to triumph in two hours and 49 minutes, just 36 minutes shorter than her New York City Marathon finish in 2014.
"It definitely emotionally was harder," she said when comparing the two. It was such a tough grind. It was very hot out there. I think both of us were very tired in the end.
"At the same time we fought our hardest, and I'm very proud to be here with the trophy."
Both had been to the brink multiple times throughout the fortnight - Wozniacki saved match points in the second round against Jana Fett while Halep fought off match points against both Lauren Davis and Angelique Kerber in the semifinals. Fighting back from 5-2 down in the opening set, Halep hit the Danish Wall in the ensuing tie-break, as Wozniacki rolled onward with four break point chances on Halep's serve early in the second set.
The Romanian battled on and took the lone service break of the second to force a decider, even as her physicality appeared in doubt following a medical timeout.
"I was really tired," Halep said after the match. "I had so many problems at my feet, pain everywhere. But, you know, I think I did pretty well with all the things that were going on.
"After the first set, I just was out. I don't know what happened. No energy, no power. But then I just said that I have to hit all the balls, and then I could take the second set."
Wozniacki had been the underdog in her two previous major finals against Kim Clijsters in 2009 and Serena Williams in 2014, and had to battle through nerves, an indefatigable Halep, and her own physical issues late in the match, calling the trainer for an acute left knee injury.
With the match in its critical stage, the Dane got on one last hot streak, earning championship point with a sensational rally and taking the win one point later, becoming the first from her country to win a singles Grand Slam title.
"That was a crazy point. I think we both played very well. I had that backhand crosscourt. I knew at that point I have to hit it hard, I have to just go for it crosscourt. It went a little shorter than what I had really thought that I was going to do, that wasn't what I was aiming for. I was like, 'Wow, that's a great shot. I'm going to take it.'
"Then the last point she played very aggressively. She had a short second serve. I went in and played aggressive. I started off the point that way. Then she was playing aggressive, and I was just trying to fight off, playing it deep. I hit a couple of framed shots.
"There's a lot going through your mind at that point. You're like, 'No, I had an opportunity. I should have hit it a little bit differently.'
"When I saw that ball go into the net, it was crazy emotional."
In all, she hit just 19 unforced errors in the nearly three-hour epic, with an accompanying 25 winners to illustrate the increased aggression that took her over the finish line in Singapore and Melbourne. For Halep, it was another aggressive display: 40 winners off-set by 46 unforced errors, but an impressive six aces off her ever-improving serve.
"I can still smile," Halep said. "It's fine. I cried, but now I'm smiling. It's just a tennis match in the end. But I'm really sad I couldn't win it. I was close again, but the gas was over in the end.
"She was better. She was fresher. She had actually more energy in the end."
Ranked No.1 for 67 weeks between 2010 and 2012, Wozniacki will return to the top spot on Monday six years to the day her reign ended after the 2012 Australian Open.
"I think being the new Grand Slam champion and World No.1 sounds pretty good," Wozniacki said with a smile. "I'm very excited for that. It's a dream come true."
Get on the Porsche Race to Singapore to see who are amongst the top 8 in the Leaderboard update
This article was first seen on www.wtatennis.com.