MELBOURNE: Caroline Wozniacki says she never gave up on herself or her Grand Slam title dream after beating Elise Mertens Thursday to reach her first Australian Open final.
The Danish world number two overcame a late wobble in her semi-final to beat the unseeded Mertens 6-3, 7-6 (7/2) and set up a clash against Romanian top seed Simona Halep on Saturday.
“It means so much to me,” she said after reaching her third major final and first since the 2014 US Open.
“I always believed in myself. I had a tough period where I had a few injuries,” added the 27-year-old, who slid down the rankings to 19th at the end of 2016.
“That was kind of hard and tough mentally. But once I got past that, I knew that if I can stay healthy and I work hard, my game is good enough for it.”
Her hard work was rewarded with a renaissance in 2017, reaching eight finals — winning in Tokyo and at the season-ending WTA Finals.
“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. I want to be competitive. I want to be the best and that’s why I’m still playing,” she said.
If Wozniacki wins the final she will regain the number one spot six years after last holding the position — the longest gap between stints at the top since computerised rankings were introduced in 1975.
She would beat the record of Serena Williams who went five years and 29 days between spells as number one.
Against Mertens, she got the wobbles serving for the match at 5-4, the same score as in her previous semi-final appearance in Melbourne against Li Na seven years ago.
On that occasion Wozniacki lost in three sets to the Chinese great, a meltdown the Dane said “still haunts her”, and history repeated itself as Mertens broke back.
“I got really tight at 5-4,” said Wozniacki. “I think I was nervous. All of a sudden, yeah, it just turned around.
“But I managed to just gather myself and thankfully closed it out in the end,” said Wozniacki who also saved three sets points at 5-6 in her next service game.
“Normally I am really calm so once I started feeling really nervous, it felt like my legs were shaking a bit.”
Halep later came through a thriller 9-7 in the third set against 2016 champion Angelique Kerber after saving two match points.
“Halep, just like me, was down match points early on in the tournament,” said Woznaicki, who saved two match points at 5-1 down in an earlier match against unseeded Jana Fett.
“I think it’s exciting because we’re both playing for the number one ranking.
“I could have been home already. But now I’m here and I fought my way all the way to the finals. I’m just really proud of that and really excited.”