Friday, January 26, 2018

2018 AUS OPEN: Women's Final Preview (and Semifinals Review)

Simona Halep (ROU) [1] Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [2]

Here are my predictions for the 2018 Australian Open women's final. 
Last year I correctly predicted Serena Williams would beat Venus Williams in the women's final and also coreectly predicted  1 of 2 men's semifinals and 2 of 2 women's semifinalsThis year I predicted correctly 2 of 2 women's semifinals, 2 of 2 men''s semifinals3 of 4 women's quarterfinals and 2 of 4 men's quarterfinals


Simona Halep (ROU) [1] dAngelique Kerber [21] (GER) 6-3 4-6 9-7.  As expected this was an absolute corker of a match and met the heightened expectations after both Kerber and Halep defeated hard-hitting opponents in their respective quarterfinals against Karolina Pliskova and Madison Keys, respectively. Halep started off quite strong, racing to a 5-0 lead but then faltered when serving for the set and let Kerber get back to 5-3 but then won the set 6-3. Again in the second set Halep was up a break at 3-1 but then Kerber got it back to 3-all and eventually won the set 6-4. The deciding set Halep had match points at 4-5, 15-40  with Kerber serving but then had to save match points herself when Kerber served at 6-5, 40-15. Eventually, Halep broke in the sixteenth game to win the decider 9-7. The match featured extremely high-quality play on both sides of the net and included several incredible, gut-busting rallies of length in the 20-shot range.

Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) [2] dElise Mertens (BEL) [16] 6-3 7-6(2).  This was a closer match than anyone expected but as expected Wozniacki was able to beat the unheralded Belgian player in a pretty routine fashion. There were none of the lapses or streaks which Wozniacki has had in other matches here in Melbourne, like in her quarterfinal which she won 6-0, 7-6(3), 6-2 with Carla Suarez Navarro saving match points in the second set but then going away in the third. Mertens put up a more consistent defense but it was not enough to deny Wozniacki the win.


As with most major finals, this will be a historic match. But this will make a bit more history than most. It is a rare showdown between the World #1 and World #2 in a major final and the winner of the match will be #1 after the tournament.  (The last time that happened was when #1 Serena Williams beat #2 Maria Sharapova in 2015.) This is also the first time that both players have saved match points en route to a major final, and Halep has done it in two matches (against Kerber in the semifinals and against Davis in the 3rd round while Wozniacki did it against Fett in the 2nd round.) This is also the 3rd time in the last four slams to be contested between first-time Slam winners (2017 French Open final where Jelena Ostapenko d. Halep and 2017 U.S. Open final Sloane Stephens d. Keys). This is Wozniacki's 43rd major championship appearance (only Jana Novotna, Marion Bartoli and Flavia Pennetta had more appearances before winning their first major). It is Halep's 31st appearance. Interestingly, they are both playing in their 3rd major final.

If Wozniacki wins the championship and thus gets to #1, that will be the largest gap in times at #1 in the history of the WTA tour (almost exactly 6 years, surpassing Serena's record of 5-plus years).  Head to head some may be surprised to discover that Wozniacki holds a 4-2 lead, and has won their last 3 matches, including a 6-0 6-2 drubbing at the 2017 WTA Tour finals. However, Halep leads 2-1 in their outdoor hard-courts. and the two have never contested a final.

I think this will probably be an even better match than the Halep-Kerber match, but I think it is also very likely that nerves will play a significant role, more so for Wozniacki, who has not been in a major final since the 2014 U.S. Open, where she lost to Serena. Her previous appearance was the 2009 U.S. Open final against Kim Clijsters. Neither of those matches did anyone give her a decent shot at winning, while in this final with Halep, she knows she can win and she also knows this may not have any more chances at winning that elusive major after this chance, especially with Serena's imminent return. I believe Halep will have learned from her play against Ostapenko where she lost a match up a set and  a break and will be the aggressor again, against a  Wozniacki who will be playing more aggressive than usual but whose natural instinct is to be a counterpuncher. Regardless, I will be happy with whomever wins, but I think it will be the World #1.

MadProfessah's prediction: Halep.

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