MELBOURNE, Australia -- We could not have asked for a better Australian Open women's final than this. Either Simona Halep or Caroline Wozniacki will win her first major title and leave Melbourne with the No. 1 ranking.
It goes without saying that so much is on the line for both players. How will this play out? Let's break down each player:
Keys for Halep
1. Continue to attack short balls and especially be willing to step inside the baseline and take balls early when the opportunity presents itself. While Wozniacki moves well and is super fit, she is not as quick as Halep. Halep can take advantage of this, if she's willing to go up the line at the right times.
2. Change the pace and trajectory during baseline exchanges. Wozniacki loves the ball coming at her hard and flat, as she absorbs pace as well as anyone. Halep must be willing to play some high balls and angles -- and even hit an occasional slice off her backhand side to keep Wozniacki out of the rhythm she loves.
3. This may be the most crucial: Halep must hold her nerve as she gets in a winning position. She has certainly done that throughout this tournament -- even with the early ankle injury -- including the marathon win over Lauren Davis and that semifinal epic against Angelique Kerber. But this is a final, and memories of last year's championship match from the French Open, when she was up a set and 3-0 against Jelena Ostapenko before succumbing, might linger.
Keys for Wozniacki
1. Continue to step inside the court and aggressively attack when she gets the short ball, particularly off the forehand wing. Wozniacki can often get tentative late in tournaments against high-quality opposition. She needs to stick with her strengths, consistently hit crosscourt and move well. But she also needs to be willing to go after her shots when it really counts late in sets.
2. Protect her second serve well enough (i.e., win over 50 percent of those points). This also will allow her to go after her first serve, which has improved quite a bit, and maybe steal a few crucial points.
3. I'm going to say the same for Woz as I said for Halep: Hold her nerve. Wozniacki has been knocking on the major title door for even longer than Halep, and we know she wants this very badly. Again, Woz needs to be willing to do whatever it takes to grab that trophy, especially down the stretch. For example, maybe just out-grinding Halep will be the proper strategy. Or possibly being bold and moving forward. Woz is pretty solid at the net.
This is a very, very tight call. Both will be very sympathetic champions, as they both have had incredible journeys. And quite honestly, I'd love to see them both win a major. But this is tennis and only one player out of 128 will walk away with a trophy.
This year that player is Halep, 7-5 6-4.