MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki face a ‘humongous’ match that could define their careers when they face off in Saturday’s Australian Open final, says former champion Mats Wilander.
Everything will be on the line when the top two seeds take to Rod Laver Arena as both chase a long-awaited first grand slam title as well as the world number one ranking.
Romanian Halep currently holds top spot but Wozniacki, who once spent 67 weeks there, would replace her with victory.
It is the first time the number one ranking has been at stake at a women’s grand slam since the 2012 Australian Open when Victoria Azarenka defeated Maria Sharapova.
With both having already topped the rankings, however, that will pale into insignificance compared to holding aloft the trophy on Saturday, having both suffered heartbreak on two occasions, Halep at the French and Wozniacki at the U.S. Open.
While points and rankings are quickly forgotten, grand slam silverware lasts forever.
“I think the problem with Wozniacki and Halep is that they were both number one in the world and maybe they thought they were the best players in the world,” Wilander, who will be analyzing the final for Eurosport, told Reuters.
“A grand slam is your Olympic gold, basically. It means you are the best player in the world in those two weeks,” he said.
“The ranking tells you that you are number one, but clearly neither of them have had it when they have needed to be the best player in the world. The person on the other side of the net has been the best player in the world.
“That’s why this match is humongous. It will tell them that ‘I am the best player in the world today - and I’ve been the best player in the world for the past 12 months’.”
Three-times Australian Open champion Wilander says both Halep and Wozniacki have benefited this past fortnight from being forced out of their comfort zones.
The usually cagey Halep struck 50 winners in a brutal semi-final against Angelique Kerber, when she saved match points for the second match here this year.
“I know that Halep is trying to play more aggressively,” Wilander said. “You wonder if maybe being match points down (against Lauren Davis) in the third round and twisting her ankle - maybe that’s the best thing that ever happened to her.
“She’s not gone into panic hitting but she is thinking, ‘Maybe I can’t rely totally on my footwork and court coverage now’.”
Second seed Wozniacki has also been more aggressive in her approach after saving match points in round two against Croatia’s Jana Fett.
“Wozniacki was way too passive against Fett and was nearly out,” Wilander said.
“They have come out of their comfort zones. You are not going to win these matches in your comfort zone.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Hugh Lawson