NEWS

Australian open to provide new women's Grand Slam winner

January 26, 2018

The Australian Open is set to become the third Grand Slam tournament out of the last four to provide a first-time champion, after Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki won through to the face each other in Melbourne. 

Last year saw the teenage Jelena Ostapenko win the French Open, while Sloane Stephens capped a remarkable comeback from injury by taking the US Open.

While they had been unexpected winners, this time the final is, remarkably, between two players who have held the world number one spot in the WTA rankings without yet landing one of the big four titles. 

Romanian Halep is the current leading player, while Wozniacki, the current number two, reached number one in 2011. The Dane has 27 tour titles to date, but the nearest she has come to a Grand Slam is in the US Open, where she lost the 2009 and 2014 finals.  

Similarly, Halep has twice been a losing finalist in the French Open, coming second in 2014 and 2017.

The fact that the pair are the top two seeds in the tournament makes it logical enough in itself that they should meet in the final, and of course the absence of Serena Williams is the most obvious reason that players who have yet to get their hands on the biggest trophies are now doing so. 

Even so, it is an opportunity not just for one of two fine players to break her Grand Slam duck, but to set up 2018 as a year of possible dominance as the world number one. Indeed, fans booking corporate hospitality for the Championships, Wimbledon will be keeping a close eye on the pair's form, not least as Serena should be back and challenging by then. 

Halep's semi-final was an epic encounter against another recent world number one, Angelique Kerber. The German had slipped back a little after her magical 2016, when she won the Australian and US Opens on her way to top spot. 

Coming into the tournament ranked 16th, she had hinted at a resurgence in form after her recent victory in Sydney, and she and Halep dished up the best women's match of the tournament to date before the world number one finally came through 6-3 4-6 9-7. The final set was particularly close, with both players spurning two match points before Halep got over the line. 

If three of the finalists were household names, Belgium's Elise Mertens threatened to pull off a surprise. The 22-year-old world number 37 -whose highest ranking to date was 35 last year - entered the tournament in form after victory in Hobart and carried it through to the semi-final. In the end, Wozniacki overpowered her to win 6-3, 7-6, but Mertens is certainly going to be a player to watch as she seeks to follow in the footsteps of her compatriots Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. 

Not since the 2014 US Open have two men without a Grand Slam title between them met in the final. But it may be that, unless Serena can get back to her best after her maternity break, the scenario that will play out in Melbourne this weekend could recur in this year's other big tournaments. 

Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images and Scott Barbour/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription (composite of two images)

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