MELBOURNE - No.2 seed Caroline Wozniacki took the scenic route into her second Australian Open semifinal, and first since 2011, with a 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-2 defeat of unseeded Carla Suárez Navarro over the course of two hours and 12 minutes.
"It feels great to be back here in the semifinals," Wozniacki told reporters afterwards. "It's been a few years. Last time I was in the semifinals here, I had match points against Li Na. I lost it. That's still haunting me till this day. So I'm hoping for a different result this time."
The last two matches the pair had played had been marathons that extended some distance beyond the two-hour mark, with Wozniacki winning 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-4 in Tokyo in 2016, and Suárez Navarro reducing the head-to-head deficit to 2-5 overall with her 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 win in Madrid last year. Tonight, despite the late hour - the match would finish at 1.35am - their eighth encounter fit the pattern once again.
Initially, though, the Wozniacki wall was at its most impenetrable. Conceding a miserly three unforced errors and getting 100% of her returns back into play in the first set, the Dane's accuracy and anticipation made for an absolutely watertight set.
Suárez Navarro, attempting to patiently construct points, found that steering the ball from line to line still wasn't enough to open up the court - and the majority of the extended rallies ended in an error from the World No.39's racket, tallying 15 over the first set. On return, too, Suárez Navarro was all too ineffective, managing to get just 68% of Wozniacki's serves back into play.
The final game of the set, though, saw Suárez Navarro punch back. Taking the ball earlier and taking more risks with her placement, the owner of the only one-handed backhand in the Top 40 managed to land a flurry of stylish winners off both wings. It wasn't enough to stave off the bagel set, with Wozniacki nailing a backhand down the line herself to set up set point, but it was clear that the former World No.6 had located her timing and her rhythm.
A net foray to start her first service game of the second set indicated Suárez Navarro's renewed intent, and set her on the way to a firm love hold to get on the scoreboard for the first time. Now controlling the pace of an increasing number of rallies, Suárez Navarro began to utilise the full range of the spins and angles in her arsenal, reeling off 13 out of 16 points in a spell that saw her leap out to a 4-2 lead.
A resilient Wozniacki rose to the challenge, fending off a point for the double break with a brace of aces and subsequently clawing back to level pegging as errors crept into the Suárez Navarro game once again. But the Spaniard continued to determinedly take the ball early and remain aggressive - and saw her strategy pay off, first in saving a match point while serving down 4-5 (unusually, it was Wozniacki who broke down first in an extended rally) and subsequently in dominating an ensuing tiebreak.
In Suárez Navarro's previous five Grand Slam quarterfinals, the Canary Islander had won five games or fewer on four occasions. The only exception had been her 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-5 loss to Eugenie Bouchard at Roland Garros in 2014 - and this bravura set saw her break the one-sided pattern at last.
But if a tactical adjustment had been key to Suárez Navarro turning the match around, it was Wozniacki's turn to switch up her strategy in the decider. Employing heavy spin to maintain depth and height, the WTA Finals champion sent her opponent scurrying from corner to corner, forcing her behind the baseline and into defensive play. With her serve clicking once more - Wozniacki would land 10 aces over the course of the night - the Dane was free to swing away on the Suárez Navarro delivery, breaking twice as the intransigent qualities of the first set returned to her game.
"She was amazing, she was really good," admitted Suárez Navarro afterwards. "I know how she can play. All our matches are always really long."
She praised her opponent's improvement, saying: "In her serve, she served really good today, I think she's better. Always Caro with the backhand was good from when she was young, but now with the forehand I think she's playing more aggressive, more down the line."
The Spaniard was loath to pick a favorite for the title, adding: "I don't know which one to say - maybe Caro? It's tough! Halep - Caro, for the final here."