MELBOURNE, Australia - For the second time this fortnight, World No.1 Simona Halep saved multiple match points en route to a victory, this time saving a pair to defeat former champion Angelique Kerber in a classic semifinal, 6-3, 4-6, 9-7.
From 5-3 up in the final set, Halep found her back against the wall, as Kerber won three games in the row to toe the line for the match at 6-5. The German built a 40-15 lead on serve, but Halep bounced back and broke serve, before edging through to victory in a two hour, 20-minute classic.
The semifinal victory marked the second time Halep has saved match points this fortnight, as she also came back from the brink in a third-round victory over Lauren Davis which went to 15-13 in the final set.
"It was very tough, I am shaking now," Halep told an appreciative crowd on Rod Laver Arena. "She's a very tough opponent, moving well and hitting from everywhere. It's not easy winning two such long matches in the same tournament.
"I just had confidence in myself, I told myself to fight for every point and then rest afterwards. I tried to stay calm but today I was like a roller coaster. I didn't give up though and, if you don't give up, you can win matches. I am proud of myself."
Halep's victory sets up a Saturday final against No.2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, who defeated surprise semifinalist Elise Mertens in the day's first match.
Saturday's match between Halep and Wozniacki will be the first Grand Slam final between the No.1 and No.2 seeds at a major since Serena Williams defeated Maria Sharapova to win the Australian Open in 2015.
As it happened: Halep holds nerve in Melbourne match for the ages
In addition, it is the first Australian Open final in which both players are competing for their first Grand Slam title since Hana Mandlíkova defeated Wendy Turnbull to win in 1980.
The winner between Halep and Wozniacki will walk away with both the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup and the No.1 ranking.
Both players will be competing in their third career Grand Slam final, with Halep having a pair of runner-up finishes in Paris, while Wozniacki has twice reached the final at the US Open.
"I was in this position in French Open, so maybe I can make a better match. I can just make it more relaxed, and take it like a normal match," Halep said.
"I play many times against her. I have to work. I'm ready for it. For sure it's a big challenge. Maybe the biggest one, because all the things that were going on this tournament, first Grand Slam of the year, first final here."
Against Kerber, Halep quickly surged ahead in the opening set at 5-0 after just over 10 minutes, sprinting through the first five games with the loss of just five points.
The 2016 champion Down Under, Kerber won 12 of the next 13 points as she hit back with a pair of breaks at love, sandwiched around a hold to 15, to pull to within 5-3. However, the early deficit proved too great for the German to overcome, as a 0-40 hole led to Halep's fourth break of the opener, and a one-set lead.
Kerber's best chance to take a lead in the match came in the third game of the second set, as she created a small window of opportunity on the Halep serve at 15-30, where a break would've put her ahead 2-1.
The World No.1 came through the threat, and seemed to stamp her authority with a series of ripped forehands to break in the fourth game.
Nonetheless, the 2016 women's champion in Kerber was not yet beaten, as she saved a point for 4-1 en route to breaking the Halep serve, and came through a tight service game of her own to draw level in the match for the first time all afternoon.
The German held serve after saving a pair of break points in the eighth game of the set, which would've seen Halep toe the line for the match, and finally broke through with some gritty play at the close of the second set.
Kerber edged three straight multi-deuce games to push the match to a decider for the fourth time in nine career meetings between the two, but the first since the semifinal of the Rogers Cup in 2016.
"I gave everything. This is what I will tell myself in the next few days," Kerber said in defeat.
"Looking back what I achieved in the last three weeks, it was not so bad. I mean, when I look back, like, four, five weeks ago, and somebody told me that I will win so many matches in a row, winning a title, being in the semifinals here and still having the opportunity to win this match, as well."
The final set proved to be a match in itself, as long as the first two sets combined. Though it was Kerber who broke first in the decider in the opening game, Halep hit back immediately to level, and seemed to have the match in hand as she built a 0-40 lead over a fading Kerber in the eighth game.
However, the top seed didn't get to match point on serve, as the two-time major champion got a second wind and get back on serve thanks to a stunning backhand winner to close out a 26-shot rally.
Halep would have her first look at victory in the next game, but a backhand winner from Kerber saved one and a backhand error from Halep the other, as the German held onto her serve to level the set at 5-5.
Her momentum continued into the top seed's next service game, as Kerber ran her streak of games to three straight, breaking thanks in part to four unforced errors off Halep's racquet.
The World No.1 found some of her best again, however, to once again square the decider, which included a forehand winner that kissed the line on Kerber's second match point. Four games later, it was Halep who finally emerged victorious, though she watched as another 0-30 on Kerber's serve and a third match point went by.
Nonetheless, another forehand winner - her 24th off that wing in the match - set up a fourth match point, and Halep became the first Romanian to advance to the final in Melbourne thanks to a final backhand from Kerber that sailed over the baseline.