Phew! Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki finally has her moment
MELBOURNE, Australia -- It was the biggest moment of Caroline Wozniacki's life, yet after she watched Simona Halep drill the final point into the net, the soon-to-be No. 1 player in the world didn't quite know what to do.
They always tell athletes to "act like you've been there," but Wozniacki had never experienced this moment of being a Grand Slam champion. She dropped her racket, and her body followed, leaving her stretched out on the ground. As she looked skyward, she put her hands to her face and cried.
That reaction seemed about right for a first-time Grand Slam champion, which Wozniacki can call herself after Saturday's unforgettable 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4 win over Halep.
Well more than an hour after the on-court pomp and circumstance and the off-court photo ops and interviews, Wozniacki sat alongside the trophy in the media room, looking at it in such a loving way that her fiancé, former NBA champion David Lee, might have been just a little bit jealous.
"She's beautiful, isn't she," Wozniacki said, caressing the side of the trophy with her left hand. "Being here with the Australian Open trophy is something that is incredibly special to me. I'm just going to really, as I said before, try to soak this moment in, try to enjoy it as long as possible."
It's about time for Wozniacki, who Monday will have the added bonus of officially becoming the new No. 1 player in the world -- six years to the day since she last held that distinction. That ranks as the longest gap between stints atop the game.
Not a bad distinction to go along with the beloved trophy and a $3.2 million check.
Wozniacki earned that money on a remarkable night of tennis, which is a far cry from what many people expected when the Australian Open began.
The disappointment that was felt when Serena Williams pulled out two weeks before the tournament was only heightened when Venus Williams and defending US Open champion Sloane Stephens were dispatched on the first day.
But not to worry. This match Saturday was played at such a high level -- and with so many anxious moments -- that a stress test should have been a requirement upon exit. The 32 games they played were tied for the third most ever in an Open era women's final.
In a match that featured many long points (Wozniacki won 27 of the 50 rallies of nine shots of more), both players ended points appearing completely spent at times.
"Every time, I was like, 'Oh, I can't do this anymore. I'm exhausted.' And we were playing all these crazy-long rallies," Wozniacki said. "I'm looking over there, she looks a little tired. She must be feeling the exact same way or maybe more tired than me."
The hot, humid temperatures played under the open roof led officials to give the players an extra 10 minutes between the second and third sets.
But that was of no help to Halep, whose cramps and headache during the match added to a long list of ailments that she had to overcome over the past two weeks.
Wozniacki broke Halep in the second game of the third set, which was the start of a wild sequence of four straight games where each player was broken twice. Wozniacki would eventually come back from a break down, at 4-3, to win the last three games and 10 of the last 14 points.
Wozniacki not only walked out of Melbourne Park with her first Grand Slam, but she also left as the first Danish player to win a major tennis title.
For Halep, let's hope she doesn't carry this burden too long, not after an incredible tournament run where she severely sprained her ankle, survived a marathon match that lasted 48 games and endured a tough three-set semifinal.
"I had too many long matches," Halep said. "The body wasn't ready."
Wozniacki, physically, was ready for the classic match that was so nerve-wracking that Serena Williams made the wise decision not to watch.
Williams did tweet her congratulations to Wozniacki afterward:
"Woke up to @CaroWozniacki new number one and aussie open champ. So awesome. So happy. Are those tears? Yup they are. From a year ago to today I'm so proud my friend so proud. Literally can't even sleep now."
Williams was referring to Wozniacki's comeback after an injury-prone 2016 season and getting beat here in the third round.
Wozniacki finished 2017 strong, though, winning the WTA Finals and finishing the year at No. 3 in the world.
She entered the 2018 Australian Open with a ton of confidence, and now she's a Grand Slam champion.
"I've proved that I can beat anyone out there on court," Wozniacki said, grinning ear to ear. "When you're in the finals, I'm not going to lie, I was really nervous before going out there on court. But once I kind of settled in and we had the warmup, I was just like, I have everything to win."
Just over a week ago, Wozniacki was down 5-1 in the third set and facing what seemed like a certain early exit. On Saturday, she was cuddling a new friend.
"From being almost out of the tournament to sitting here with the Australian Open trophy, it's amazing," she said. "I think being new Grand Slam champion and world No. 1 sounds pretty good."
Then Wozniacki looked, again, at the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
"Right now," she said. "I'm going to go home and sleep with Daphne."
It's been a long time coming.