No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki knocked off No. 3 Simona Halep 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 to advance to the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix where she will play No. 14 Angelique Kerber. The German booked her spot in her second straight WTA final with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Madison Brengle.
Thoughts on Wozniacki and Kerber's statement week in Stuttgart:
Caroline Wozniacki finds her clay game
To say Wozniacki flew under the radar in Stuttgart would be an understatement. Despite her defensive abilities and unmatchable fitness, Wozniacki has never been a force on red clay. The last time she made a clay final was in Brussels in 2011, where she went on to win her only title on red dirt. After winning her third round match this week, Wozniacki laughed when she said she had already won more matches on clay this year (2) than she had in the entire clay season last year (1). In a tournament with a packed draw full of "better" clay-courters, her run to the final has been a surprise.
That she did it by beating the tour's best pure clay-courter is even more of a statement. Not to be overlooked is her quarterfinal win over No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, also a quality clay-courter. Wozniacki brought on Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario to her team a few weeks ago specifically for the clay season. On Saturday she put forth her best performance on the red clay to outlast and frustrate Halep. She did it by pure grit, athleticism, and improved tactics.
The entire match could be distilled in the first game, which saw Halep earn three break points in a five-deuce game and still unable to get the break. Despite putting sustained pressure on the Wozniacki serve, Halep went 0 for 5 for break points in the first set, while Wozniacki made good on her third chance, breaking Halep to seal the set.
Watch Wozniacki hit a perfect lob early in the first game:
Halep rebounded in the second set to race out to a 3-0 lead and hold on to force a third but by then her legs were gone. Wozniacki had made her work incredibly hard through two sets, which lasted over two hours. Always a top-notch defender, Wozniacki employed more slice to keep herself in rallies and give Halep a different ball to look at. The Romanian tried to open the court with her angles and placement but Wozniacki was always there.
Behind more aggressive hitting, Wozniacki was able to build a 5-1 lead in the third set. She held off a last-ditch effort from Halep, who saved three match points to break her as she served for the match. But Wozniacki responded by breaking in the very next game to seal the win. "I came out strong there and just tried to keep it going," Wozniaki said after the match. "I knew I had loads of energy left for the third set. That's what I was going for, to try to stay longer in the rallies, make her run, and stay aggressive, and that's really what I did."
This is how hard Halep had to work to win points, even deep in the third set:
In all, Halep went 4 for 19 in break point chances. Wozniacki fared much better, going 6 for 11. The Dane also served very well, hitting 77 percent of her first serves in. Under attack for most of the match, Wozniacki finished with more winners than unforced errors, hitting 30 to 26. Halep hit 41 winners and 47 unforced errors.
"I'm smiling because I had a good match. I think I played good tennis, but she was just better than me," said Halep. "She was running a lot and she was fighting until the end - she was stronger. So I'm happy with this match. I'll only take the positive things and look forward from here."
Angelique Kerber's incredible turnaround continues
It's amazing what a little confidence can do. The German is now on a 10-match win streak after her dominating win over Brengle. She's won more matches in the last three weeks than in the first three months of her season. In the last three weeks she's earned quality wins over Maria Sharapova, Andrea Petkovic, and Madison Keys.
Given Woznaicki had to work for more than three hours to beat Halep, Kerber should have the slight edge in Sunday's final. The German leads their head-to-head 5-4 and won their only previous match on clay, in Stuttgart in 2012. Wozniacki won their last match, on hard courts in Cincinnati, last year.
Kerber and Wozniacki emerge as French Open dark horses: It's been a statement week for both players, especially given their disappointing starts to the season. We still have two big tournaments to go before the French Open in Madrid and Rome so a lot can change. But it's hard to ignore Kerber and Wozniacki now especially with how they beat last year's French Open finalists, Sharapova and Halep, this week.
Kei Nishikori on track to defend his Barcelona title
Over on the men's side, No. 5 Nishikori is into the Barcelona Open final with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Martin Klizan. He will face surprise finalist Pablo Andujar after the Spaniard stunned No. 3 seed David Ferrer 7-6, 6-3.