MELBOURNE – Caroline Wozniacki is one match away from ending her Grand Slam title drought after overcoming a late wobble to beat unseeded Elise Mertens and reach the Australian Open final Thursday.
The Danish world number two won 6-3, 7-6 (7/2) in 1hr 37min after almost allowing the world number 37 a way back when serving for the match at 5-4, and seemingly in complete control.
Two double faults enabled Mertens, in her first semi-final at this level on her Australian Open debut, to level at 5-5.
Serving to take it to a tiebreak at 5-6 Wozniacki then needed to save three sets points before sealing the match in the tiebreak.
"It means so much to me." she said after reaching her maiden Australian Open final and her first Grand Slam decider since 2014, where she will play either top seed Simona Halep or the 2016 Melbourne Park champion Angelique Kerber on Saturday.
"I got really tight at 5-4. I thought 'calm down it's all good'. It wasn't good anymore. Served a couple of double faults.
"Normally I am really calm so once I started feeling really nervous, it felt like my legs were shaking a bit.
"I just took a few deep breaths and once she had set point, I said: 'Well, I guess it is a third set. Just need to go forward'."
Wozniacki has never quite lived up to the hype in the majors – this will be just her third Grand Slam final appearance, nine years after her first at the US Open in 2009.
The 27-year-old rose to the top of the world rankings in 2010 but has only made the title match at a Grand Slam once since then, also at Flushing Meadows in 2014.
Mertens, in only her fifth Grand Slam appearance and Australian Open debut, signalled her intent to attack from the start, standing inside the baseline to receive Wozniacki's second serve.
It was a high-risk strategy and with Wozniacki repelling all the Belgian's aggressive overtures, the errors began to flow at regular intervals from Mertens' racket.
Serving at 1-3, 15-40, a netted forehand, her fifth unforced error on that wing, gave the Dane, back in a semi-final at Melbourne for the first time since 2011, the first break.
Mertens, seeking to become the first Belgian since Kim Clijsters here in 2011 to reach a Slam final, kept up the attack and fashioned a break point in the next game but Wozniacki stood up to the challenge and held for 4-1.
Serving at 2-5, Mertens saved a set point when Wozniacki went long with a forehand. The Dane was unperturbed by the minor setback and held to love to seal a comfortable first set 6-3 after 38 minutes.
There was little between the pair in terms of winners in the first stanza, Wozniacki edging the count 13 to 12.
But the unforced error count was telling – the Dane committing just six while Mertens threw away 14 points.
The second set went with serve until the Dane's late wobble, before she finally made it through.