Caroline Wozniacki finally lifted her first Grand Slam title at the 43rd attempt as she beat Simona Halep 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-4 to win the Australian Open on Saturday.
The Dane, who will take over as world number one, burst into tears as she secured the title against the battling Romanian top seed on her first match point of a gruelling, epic encounter.
Both players needed medical attention on court before the Dane prevailed in 2hr 49min in energy-sapping hot and humid conditions on Rod Laver Arena.
Wozniacki, 27, has long carried the unwanted moniker of best player never to win a major, having reached the US Open final in 2009 and 2014, and first becoming number one in 2010.
Both of them were in their third major final — their first in Australia — and both had saved match points in earlier rounds to get there.
Wozniacki started the stronger and broke Halep’s opening service game with the early evening temperature still above 30 Celsius (86 Farenheit).
The Dane sped into a 3-0 lead behind a consistent first serve.
Wozniacki had not won a set in either of her previous two Grand Slam final appearances and tightened visibly serving for this one at 5-3. Halep aggressively took advantage and moved to three break points at 0-40.
A big second serve and a first ace saved two of them but the relentless Halep forced Wozniacki long with a sliced forehand and the final was back on serve.
In the tiebreak the Dane went 4-1 up before a second mini-break and two solid serves gave her the tiebreak 7-2.
Wozniacki was growing in confidence and Halep needed to save four break points at 1-1 in the second set in a brutal game that lasted 11 minutes.
Soon after Halep signalled to her coach Darren Cahill in the player’s box that she wasn’t feeling well and there were worrying scenes as she had her blood pressure taken and an ice towel applied in the next changeover.
Halep re-emerged with her energy drained and needed the luckiest of net cords to hold for 4-3.
Cramping and almost limping, she decided to stand and deliver in the next game, keeping the points short.
Incredibly the tactic paid off as she broke Wozniacki with a ripping drive up the line and served at 5-3 to level the match.
Wozniacki forced two break back points which Halep saved, before levelling on her third set point.
The tournament’s extreme heat policy was invoked meaning the players took a 10-minute break before the start of the third set.
When they resumed Wozniacki held before wearing Halep down with a series of long rallies and securing the break for 2-0 as the match clock hit the two-hour mark.
Halep dug deep and got it back to 2-1 on her sixth break point of a gruelling game when Wozniacki double-faulted after almost 12 minutes.
Both players were feeling the heat and two more breaks of serve were exchanged as they struggled to find any rhythm until Halep held for 3-3.
Wozniacki’s weaker forehand let her down twice from deuce and Halep led for the first time in the match at 4-3.
Now it was the turn of the Dane to call the physio. With her left knee freshly strapped she broke Halep yet again to level at 4-4.
Finally, having not held since the first game of the third set Wozniacki managed it again and crucially led 5-4 with Halep having to serve to stay in the match.
She couldn’t manage it and a backhand into the net brought an end to her brave challenge.
Caroline Wozniacki claimed her first Grand Slam title on Saturday, beating Romanian Simona Halep 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 in a tense two-hour 49-minute battle.
The Dane will return to the No. 1 spot in the rankings following her triumph on Rod Laver Arena.
Wozniacki and Halep were both going for their first Grand Slam trophy, in their third major final.
The 27-year-old Wozniacki had previously lost two US Open finals, in 2009 and 2014.
She ended 2017 by claiming the WTA Finals title and started 2018 by reaching the Auckland final and now winning the Australian Open.
Here, we look at the key stats behind Wozniacki’s maiden Slam success.
1 – Grand Slam title for Wozniacki from three finals reached.
1 – Wozniacki is the first player from Denmark to win a Grand Slam singles title.
3 – finals reached for Wozniacki in her last three tournaments.
4 – Wozniacki now ranks fourth for total career prize money, overtaking Agnieszka Radwanska and Victoria Azarenka as she crosses the $30million mark. Only Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova have earned more prize money.
4 – wins and 6 losses for Wozniacki against world No. 1s, following her triumph over Halep on Saturday.
5 – wins and two losses for Wozniacki against Halep.
5 – Wozniacki is only the fifth player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam women’s singles title.
5 – Wozniacki is the fifth woman to save at least one match point en route to winning the Australian Open title.
6 – years since Wozniacki was last ranked No. 1 in the world. She will return to that spot on Monday for the first time since January 29, 2012. This is a WTA rankings record time between stints at No. 1.
11 – match wins and just one loss for Wozniacki so far in 2018.
12 – different first-time Grand Slam winners in the last 31 women’s Grand Slams.
14 – times the Australian Open women’s singles title was won by the No. 2 seed (Wozniacki won on Saturday as the No. 2 seed).
15 – wins (and 6 losses) against top-10 opponents for Wozniacki since the start of 2017 – more than any other player on tour.
23 – hard court titles for Wozniacki throughout her career.
42 – the average rank of Wozniacki’s opponents this Australian Open.
43 – Grand Slams Wozniacki has competed in to finally claim a title. She is fourth on the list of most Grand Slam appearances before winning her first title.
48 – Wozniacki is the 48th player in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam women’s singles title.
71 – tour-level match wins for Wozniacki since the start of 2017 – more than any other player.
156 – total winners for Wozniacki throughout the tournament.
Making history. @CaroWozniacki is the first Grand Slam champion from Denmark.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2018
The young South Korean’s run to the last four has been one of the stories of the tournament and he was in big trouble on the scoreboard before he took an injury time-out for treatment to a blister on his foot when trailing 6-1 4-1.
He played two more games but, serving at 5-2 behind, Chung abruptly headed to the net to shake hands, taking the packed crowd in Rod Laver Arena completely by surprise.
There was a smattering of boos but Federer had huge sympathy for his opponent. He said: “I thought the first set was kind of normal, I couldn’t tell what was going on with my opponent.
“In the second set I started to feel he was getting a bit slower, fighting with the blisters. I’ve played with blisters in the past and it hurts a lot. At one point it’s too much. It’s better to stop. This feels bittersweet. I’m incredibly happy to be in the finals but not like this.”
Federer will play Marin Cilic on Sunday in a repeat of last summer’s Wimbledon final – when coincidentally the Croatian was in tears because of blisters – as he bids to become the first man to reach 20 grand slam singles titles.
Chung was bidding to become just the third Asian player to reach a grand slam final after former Australian Open champion Li Na and Kei Nishikori, and he had shown, particularly with his victory over Novak Djokovic in the fourth round, that he possesses the game to trouble the best.
The Korean will have bigger and better days at slams in the future but this was a difficult experience from the moment he dropped serve in the opening game.
He gave no indication that he was struggling physically until calling for the medical time-out, although he was completely unable to match Federer, who bullied the Korean with his forehand.
The near 15-year age gap was the fourth largest in a grand slam semi-final in the Open era, with the younger man having won on the previous three occasions.
But Federer has been tearing up tennis records virtually his whole career and his seventh appearance in the final here sets yet another new mark.