On paper, this matchup in the Australian Open final makes perfect sense. It’s No. 1 seed Simona Halep vs. No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki.
But despite their current world rankings, both players are best known for what they haven’t been able to do do in their careers: win a major championship.
One of them will finally break through on Saturday evening in Melbourne.
Wozniacki defeated Elise Mertens in straight sets 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the early semifinal on Thursday and Halep followed with a far more dramatic victory over two-time major winner Angelique Kerber 6-3, 4-6, 9-7.
This will be the first Aussie Open final for both players, who have seen their fair share of success on the court but never broken through to win a coveted Grand Slam trophy. The world No. 1 ranking is also at stake in Saturday’s final.
It looked like smooth sailing for Wozniacki early on Thursday when the 27-year-old from Denmark blistered through the opening set and led the second set 5-4 with a chance to serve for the match. But back-to-back double faults helped Mertens fight back to tie the set and eventually force a tiebreaker. Wozniacki took control to advance to her first career Aussie Open final.
“I’m just excited,” Wozniacki told reporters after the match. “It’s another finals. It’s another great two weeks. Regardless of what happens now, I’ve done my best. When you go out there on Saturday, you have everything to win.”
Halep is also playing in her first Aussie final, but she had to work a lot harder to get there. Six days after prevailing an epic 3-set win over American Lauren Davis in a match that lasted nearly four hours, Halep once again had to go deep into a third set on Thursday.
The 26-year-old Romanian had multiple chances to put it away earlier but struggled to put the feisty Kerber away. Halep had to fight off two match points before she finally finished off the win in a marathon 68-minute final set.
“Definitely was very tough. I’m shaking now, I’m really emotional because I could win this match,” Halep said in her on-court interview after the match. “I’m glad I could resist. Not easy in the tournament to have these matches, but I have just to enjoy.”
Halep has 16 WTA tournament titles to her name and has reached two French Open finals, including last year’s.
Wozniacki is a former world No. 1 who has won 27 career WTA titles and is coming off a strong finish to the 2017 season in which she claimed victory at the season-ending WTA Finals. She finished as runner-up in two majors, both U.S. Opens. The last was in 2014 when she lost to Serena Williams in the final.
Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles (the most all-time in the Open era), but she’s been out of the game for the last year due to the birth of her first child.
Williams’ absence has opened the door for younger stars like Halep and Wozniacki to collect some hardware of their own.