Australian Open: 1st Grand Slam title on the line for Halep, Wozniacki
No. 1 ranking will also be decided in women's final; Cilic awaits Federer or Chung
For the second time in the tournament, Simona Halep faced match points and knew one mistake would mean an exit from the Australian Open and the likely loss of her No. 1 ranking.
For the second time in just over a week, she attacked rather than take the safe approach. The 26-year-old Romanian saved two match points and needed four of her own against 2016 champion Angelique Kerber before winning 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in the semifinals.
Halep will face No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki in the final on Saturday, with one of them guaranteed to win a first Grand Slam title. The winner will also be No. 1 when the next rankings are released. Wozniacki, who beat Elise Mertens 6-3, 7-6 (2) in 1 1/2 hours in the first semifinal, hasn't held the top ranking in six years.
For Halep, playing in her first Grand Slam as the top seeded player, it's a first major final beyond the clay courts of Roland Garros. She lost French Open finals to Jelena Ostapenko last year — having led by a set and a break — and to Maria Sharapova in 2014.
For Wozniacki, it's her first Grand Slam final outside of America. The two-time U.S. Open runner-up also had to save match points to reach her first Australian Open final. She rallied from 5-1 down in the third set of her second-round win and said she's been "playing with the house money" ever since.
Previous Australian Open winners have saved match points en route to the final, but no woman has done it in two matches.
Halep is hoping to change that, saying that saving triple match point in her third-round win against Lauren Davis that finished 15-13 in the third set had set her up mentally for the pressure of the semifinals.
"Definitely was very tough. I'm shaking now, I'm really emotional because I could win this match," Halep said immediately after beating Kerber in another marathon. "I'm glad I could resist. Not easy in the tournament to have these matches, but I have just to enjoy."
On the men's side, Marin Cilic is also enjoying his run, following up his quarter-final upset against top-ranked Rafael Nadal with a 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over No. 49 Kyle Edmund. After reaching the Australian final in his 10th attempt, the 2014 U.S. Open champion will face the winner of Friday's semifinal match between defending champion Roger Federer and Hyeon Chung.