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.”

Spanish female referee Alhambra Nievas to officiate men’s international match

Nievas will become the first woman to referee a competitive men’s international game in Europe.

By PA Sport Staff

Rugby union history will be made in Helsinki on Saturday when Spanish female referee Alhambra Nievas takes charge of a men’s international match between Finland and Norway.

It will be the first time a woman has refereed a competitive men’s international game in Europe.

The Conference Two of Rugby Europe fixture sees the 34-year-old follow female officials in other sports such as Sian Massey-Ellis, who was the first Premier League assistant referee, and Bibiana Steinhaus, who refereed in Germany’s Bundesliga.

Reflecting on Nievas’ appointment, Wormen in Sport chief executive Ruth Holdaway told The Daily Telegraph: “It builds on the momentum created over the summer where we saw viewing figures, victories and the visibility of women’s sport at an all-time high.

“It’s a real breakthrough as rugby is traditionally a male-dominated sport.”

Ireland’s Joy Neville, meanwhile, will referee the men’s match between Norway and Denmark later this month, and she will be an assistant official when France face Japan in Lens on November 25.Sian Massey-Ellis officiates in the Premier League (John Walton/Empics)

Nievas’ involvement in rugby began when she started playing for her university team. She has gone to referee such games as the Olympic women’s sevens gold medal match in Rio last year.

“The most important thing is not to be the first, but that this continues and that we keep moving forward,” Nievas told the Telegraph.

“It is an honour and I appreciate the compliment and trust in my ability but, if this is only one match, I won’t be happy.

“This is a way to change our system – that this opportunity is open to more females interested in having refereeing careers.”

Angelique Kerber battles into Australian Open quarter-finals

The 2016 champion survived a very tricky match against Hsieh Su-wei

By Eleanor Crooks, Press Association Sport Tennis Correspondent, Melbourne

Title favourite Angelique Kerber withstood the unique challenge of Hsieh Su-wei to move into the Australian Open quarter-finals.

Hsieh plays a completely different game from most of her rivals, relying not on power but a mixture of spins and slices and ball placement that bamboozle opponents and frequently drive them to distraction.

Her scalps in Melbourne had already included Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska, and for a long time it looked like Kerber might join them.

But the German has a deep well of confidence after her unbeaten start to the season and kept her composure to turn the match around and win 4-6 7-5 6-2.

The 2016 champion seemed close to losing it as Hsieh continued to spin her magic late in the second set, and the Kerber of last year would surely have crumbled.

But this is a different model and she let out a huge scream of joy and relief after sending a forehand winner down the line to level the match before racing quickly through the decider.

In the last eight Kerber will face US Open finalist Madison Keys, who has played superbly so far this fortnight and blasted her way past eighth seed Caroline Garcia, winning 6-3 6-2.

Keys, who hit 32 winners compared to just nine for her opponent, said: “I’m feeling really good. I feel like I’m playing just solid, consistent tennis. I think today was a good example of that. I served well. I returned well. But I don’t think I played unbelievable. I think I just played really solid and smart.”

The 22-year-old has long been marked out as a potential grand slam winner but her first final experience in New York last summer was something of a horror show as she won just three games against friend Sloane Stephens.

“To have such a great two weeks and then have it end the way that it did, it was really devastating for me, so it definitely took some time to get over,” said Keys.

“More than that, it was realising that it was so unexpected, and I was so happy to even get there in the first place after having such a rough beginning of my season, that after telling myself that a couple of times I definitely finally moved on and just wanted to put myself in the same position again so that maybe I could have a different outcome.”