Caroline Wozniacki has plans for her new best friend Daphne

Wozniacki defeated Halep in a dramatic three-set struggle to win the Australian Open and become world number one.

By Eleanor Crooks, Press Association Sport Tennis Correspondent, Melbourne

Caroline Wozniacki was planning a night cuddling her new friend Daphne after breaking her grand slam duck at the Australian Open.

It was fitting that the prize the Dane has been chasing for so long did not come easily, with Wozniacki eventually out-lasting Simona Halep 7-6 (7/2) 3-6 6-4 after a battle royale on Rod Laver Arena.

The victory means Wozniacki also takes over from Halep as world number one exactly six years after she last topped the rankings.Caroline Wozniacki has plans for her new best friend Daphne

She said: “Obviously that’s very special. I think being a new grand slam champion and world number one sounds pretty good. I’m very excited for that. It’s a dream come true.”

A teenage prodigy, Wozniacki reached her first grand slam final at the US Open in 2009 and another in New York in 2014 but lost first to Kim Clijsters and then Serena Williams.

It was Flushing Meadows that set Wozniacki off on the latest climb of her rollercoaster journey. In August 2016, she was ranked down at 74 but a run to the semi-finals put her back in the top 30 and it has been an upward trend ever since.

She said: “I’d been through a lot of injuries at that point. Then you start losing to some players who you’re not really thinking you should lose to. It’s frustrating.

“I was hoping eventually it was going to turn around. I made the semi-finals of the US Open. Since then I’ve been playing really consistent and really well.

“Being here tonight as a grand slam champion, Australian Open champion, it’s very special. Daphne here is going home with me tonight. I’ll be cuddling with her.”

The Daphne in question is the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, and whichever one of Wozniacki or Halep was left holding it, it would be tough to argue they did not deserve it.

Halep also lost her first two grand slam finals, both at the French Open, while both women had saved match points on their way to the final, with the Romanian doing so against both Lauren Davis and Angelique Kerber.

Ultimately the extra energy the Romanian had expended may have made the difference. She was fighting off cramp during the second set and had her blood pressure checked by the doctor after feeling dizzy in the hot and humid conditions.

Wozniacki led 2-0 and 3-1 in the decider but Halep dug her heels in and looked to have the momentum when she broke for 4-3. But a medical time-out for Wozniacki to have her left knee strapped changed things again and, when she got a chance on the Halep serve, she took it.

The final two points summed up the encounter and the women’s tournament, which has been utterly compelling. Wozniacki showed tremendous powers of defence to repel Halep and then collapsed to the ground in tears when the Romanian’s final shot hit the net.

“When I saw that ball go into the net, it was crazy emotional,” said the 27-year-old, who becomes the first Dane to win a grand slam singles title.

Wozniacki was all too aware, though, that the emotions were very different across the other side of the net as Halep was forced to come to terms with another near miss.

But the 26-year-old reflected proudly on her efforts and looked ahead to the future with optimism.

“I can still smile,” she said. “It’s fine. I cried, but now I’m smiling. It’s just a tennis match in the end.

Thanks for all of the support, we gave it our best shot. Thank you Australia for an amazing two weeks. #seeyounextyear#🤗🤗🤗

A post shared by Simona Halep (@simonahalep) on Jan 27, 2018 at 5:30am PST

“She was better. She was fresher. I was really tired. I had so many problems in my feet, pain everywhere. But I think I did pretty well with all the things that were going on. I came back in the third set, but when I had to serve for 5-3, the gas was gone.

“I did 100 per cent what I could today. That’s why I can say that I’m not sad for that. I’m sad that I lost the match, I was not the winner, but life goes on. For sure in the future, if I keep working like this and I keep playing like this, I will be in a good position again.”

Caroline Wozniacki fulfils potential with Australian Open victory

Dane finally lands a grand slam in Melbourne

By Eleanor Crooks, Press Association Sport Tennis Correspondent, Melbourne

Caroline Wozniacki won her first grand slam title at the 43rd attempt with an emotional victory over Simona Halep at the Australian Open.

Wozniacki’s 7-6 (7/2) 3-6 6-4 triumph, which was fittingly hard won, also means she will overtake Halep as world number one exactly six years since she last held top spot in the rankings.

A teenage prodigy, Wozniacki’s career has been a story of perseverance, with only three players taking longer to win their first title. But now, nearly a decade after she reached the first of two finals at the US Open, the 27-year-old can finally call herself a grand slam champion.

While this was a great moment for Wozniacki, it was a crushing one for Halep, who was also playing in her third slam final after twice losing in the French Open decider.

The key lesson both women have learned in their years of knocking on the door is that grand slam titles have to be won with bravery and belief.

Both had to show those qualities on their progress through the draw, with Halep becoming the first player in the Open era to reach a slam final having saved match points in multiple matches, while Wozniacki recovered from 1-5 15-40 against Jana Fett in round two.

There was certainly nothing passive about Wozniacki as she stormed into a 3-0 lead, Halep simply unable to deal with the Dane’s backhand down the line.Caroline Wozniacki is a grand slam champion (Dita Alangkara/AP)

She was virtually flawless until she served for the set at 5-3, when the nerves kicked in and Halep broke back. But Wozniacki stepped things up again impressively in the tie-break and this time did not blink.

This was already new ground for Wozniacki, who had never previously won a set in a slam final. She looked determined not to let her momentum slide but Halep, whose marathon matches appeared finally to be catching up with her, dug in with grit to save four break points in the third game of the second set.

I have dreamt of this moment for so many years, it’s a dream come true and I’m very emotional

Caroline Wozniacki

Two games later she called for the doctor and had her blood pressure checked, with the hot and humid conditions sapping the strength she had left.

However, it was Wozniacki who showed the first sign of weakness in the set, her forehand losing its penetration as Halep broke for 5-3 despite appearing close to cramping.

Wozniacki had three chances to break back but Halep’s tournament has been characterised by an absolute refusal to be beaten and, with the carrot of a 10-minute break with the heat rule in effect, she battled across the line.

The final set was a mental and physical examination for both. Wozniacki led 2-0 and 3-1 but both times Halep battled back and, when she broke for 4-3, the momentum seemed to be with the top seed.

But Wozniacki took a medical time-out to have her left knee strapped and promptly turned the match around again. A sublime point, showcasing her defensive and offensive skills, set up match point, and this time Halep had no resistance left.

Simona Halep to play Caroline Wozniacki in Australian Open women’s final

The pair will both bid for their maiden grand slam title on Saturday with the world number one ranking also on the line.

By Eleanor Crooks, Press Association Sport Tennis Correspondent, Melbourne

Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki will do battle in the Australian Open final on Saturday with a first grand slam title and the world number one ranking at stake.

After Wozniacki withstood a major wobble with the finish line in sight to beat Elise Mertens 6-3 7-6 (7/2), Halep defeated title favourite Angelique Kerber 6-3 4-6 9-7, with the third set a battle of lung-busting brilliance.

The final will be a clash between the top two seeds who share more than simply proximity in the rankings. Both have been ranked number one without winning a slam, both lost their first two finals and, heading into the second half of their careers, both know they may never get a better chance.

Cynics would call it the desperation derby, and whichever player handles the occasion better is very likely to come out the winner.

Halep achieved the bigger result in the semi-finals, beating the form player of 2017, former Melbourne champion Kerber, who went into the clash on a 10-match winning streak.

It pitted two of the best athletes and counter-punchers on the women’s tour against each other, so long rallies seemed to be a given, yet after 13 minutes the score was 5-0 to Halep.

But Kerber mounted a comeback, winning three games in a row, before Halep broke serve again to take the set.

The Romanian has made no secret that her sole focus now is on winning a slam title, but Kerber clung on by her fingernails in the second set, recovering from 1-3 and then saving break points that would have given Halep a 5-3 lead.

She got her reward with three games in a row to take the set as Halep’s belief wavered and then broke to start the third with an extraordinary point that was a taste of things to come.

Halep looked to have made the decisive breakthrough when she opened up a 5-3 lead but Kerber broke back, ending the final titanic point on her knees with her head pressed to the court.

A pinpoint HawkEye challenge gave Halep two match points in the next game but Kerber saved them both and then gave herself the chance to serve for victory at 6-5. She got to 40-15 but now it was Halep’s turn to dig in and hang on.Simona Halep, pictured left, is congratulated by Angelique Kerber (AP)

They were the fourth and fifth match points the Romanian has saved this tournament after she withstood three in another remarkable battle against Lauren Davis in round three.

Halep said: “It definitely was very tough, I’m shaking, I’m very emotional. She’s a very tough opponent. I’m really glad that I could resist and I could win this match. I have just to enjoy.

“I had just confidence in myself. I decided after I twist my ankle (in the first round) that I will fight for every point in this tournament and then I will rest. I didn’t give up, not even a ball. If you don’t give up you can win the match in the end. I did it and I’m really proud of myself.”

All seemed to be going smoothly for Wozniacki against surprise package Mertens in the first match until she served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and from 30-0 lost four straight points, double-faulting on the last of them.

Wozniacki then had to save two set points but, seven years after holding match point in the last four here against Li Na and losing, she engineered a different outcome.

Katy Mclean wants to continue feel-good factor at Rugby World Cup

Fly-half Mclean believes the feel-good factor surrounding English women’s sport can spur England on at the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

By PA Sport Staff

England fly-half Katy Mclean says her team-mates have been inspired by the success of their cricketing counterparts ahead of the upcoming Women’s Rugby World Cup.

After England’s dramatic World Cup final victory over India at Lord’s, this country’s rugby players will now look to follow suit at their own showpiece tournament starting on August 9.

There could be more silverware yet to come before then too, with England’s female footballers taking on Holland on Thursday for a place in Sunday’s Euro 2017 final.

Mclean believes the feel-good factor surrounding English women’s sport can spur them on at the World Cup in Ireland.England’s Women’s Rugby World Cup winning team at Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Mclean said. “The buzz from the cricket is definitely going to help us.

“Then you look at the footballers and them beating France to get to the semis – it’s everything you want to see as a woman in sport, not just rugby.

“I remember being seven and my role model was Sally Gunnell because she was the only female athlete on TV.

“Now you’ve got cricketers, footballers, rugby players – and we want to follow them in inspiring the next generation of female players. It’s phenomenal.”

England are the reigning world champions after they beat Canada in the final three years ago but they will face stiff competition from the likes of New Zealand, Ireland, France and the Canadians again.

They have been drawn in Pool B with Italy, the United States and Spain.

“It’s not about retaining the trophy, you don’t get any bonus points for winning it before,” Mclean said. “This tournament is a clean slate for everybody. There’s 12 teams that are going to go out there and want to win it. It means nothing for us what happened in 2014.”

England’s 15-a-side players know they will not have their contracts renewed at the end of the tournament after the Rugby Football Union’s controversial decision to shift focus to sevens. Mclean, however, insists the squad will not let the issue become a distraction.

“As players it’s something we’ve known about for a while but the big focus is on the World Cup,” Mclean said. “I have to make sure as a group that’s all we focus on. The best thing we can control is our performances and the first one is against Spain in 10 days time.”