Saying that life has taken a turn for the better for Caroline Wozniacki in the last couple of months does not really cover it.
First she got engaged to former NBA star David Lee during an off-season holiday in November and now she is, at last, the grand slam champion she always dreamed about.
All the sweeter is that came after a gruelling, high-stakes Australian Open final. It crackled with intensity and was among the best of recent years featuring either men or women, and Melbourne Park has seen some good ones of late.
Caroline Wozniacki kisses the Australian Open trophy which will elevate her to world No 1
Wozniacki held her nerve and kept her physical condition to defeat Simona Halep 7-6 3-6 6-4 in two hours and 49 minutes of gripping combat with the result in doubt until she fell to the floor in sobbing delight at the end.
It completed a remarkable turnaround from a week last Wednesday, when she had trailed little-known Croatian Jana Fett 5-1 in a deciding set and had to fend off two match points.
Now she was tackling one of the most loaded championship matches ever in women’s tennis: the world No 1 spot at stake, a winner’s purse of £2.3 million and, most importantly, the authenticity of being a true champion.
Wozniacki returns to No 1 exactly six years after relinquishing the position, a record gap in women’s tennis.
For both players it offered an escape route from the status of being a Slam-less world No 1. Halep has to continue living with that while Wozniacki, so often the nearly woman, is free.
‘I’m just proud I will never hear “you were No 1 but never won a grand slam again”,’ said the Dane, who less than 18 months ago had seen her ranking fall to No 74 after various ailments. After two lost major finals it looked like she might be the perennial bridesmaid.
Wozniacki returns to the top of the WTA rankings exactly six years after relinquishing it
‘All I could tell myself was, “You know what, you’ve given it everything you have. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen”.
‘I think you always, at certain points, especially when you start having injuries and stuff, you start maybe doubting if you’re ever going to be 100 percent healthy for longer periods of time.
‘But I think for a year and a half, I’ve proved that I can beat anyone out there on court. But when you’re in the finals, I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous before going out there.’
She succeeds her close friend Serena Williams as Australian champion and the American was quick to tweet her congratulations. She was apparently too nervous to watch: ‘So happy. Are those tears? Yup they are. From a year ago to today I’m so proud my friend so proud,’ she said.
It was Williams who invited her on a girls holiday to Miami in 2014 after Rory McIlroy broke off their engagement. Right now there may be a sense of happy ever after for both women.
Wozniacki required a medical time out when she was a break down in the final set of the match
Later that year Wozniacki decided to run in the New York marathon as a project to focus her mind on something, and ended up recording an impressive time of three hours and 26 minutes (only 37 minutes longer than this final).
She has always had a natural durability as an athlete, and rarely has that been more important than in this match, played in steaming heat in the early evening.
That was a key difference between the pair, especially as Halep has contended with foot and ankle problems over the fortnight.
Not for the first time, medical timeouts called by both players turned out to be of significance. Halep called one at 2-3 in the second set to have her blood pressure taken because she was feeling ill. She came out afterwards and romped home to the second set with renewed purpose as the Dane lost some of her focus.
There then followed a 10-minute break, under WTA heat rules, allowing for the players to physically regroup. The next three games took 34 minutes.
But her endurance as an athlete shone through as she came back to win the tournament
Simone Halep paid tribute to Wozniacki’s fitness following an epic three-set contest
It was no surprise there were some brilliant rallies between these two excellent movers, and at 4-3 Wozniacki seemed to be flinching at a break down. She called the trainer on to administer strapping to the knee and then came to win the next three games and the title.
The hiatus came before her opponent’s serve, although it should be said the gracious Halep did not have any complaints later.
‘She was better, she was fresher,’ said the Romanian, who is to undergo a series of MRIs. ‘ I was really tired. I had so many problems at my feet, pain everywhere. But, you know, I think I did pretty well with all the things that were going on.’
The final points count was 110 to 108, with each player having five breaks of serve. The statistics of the match were almost identical on both sides of the ledger, adding a certain cruelty to the result.
The Dane shared a kiss with her fiancee, former NBA star David Lee, alongside her new trophy