Welcome to Memory Lawn, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable matches from the grass seasons of the past five years. Following our retrospective of the best of Birmingham, we move to Eastbourne on the south coast of England to cover the historic Nature Valley International, a tournament that has been an integral part of the grass swing since 1974. Up next is Caroline Wozniacki's topsy-turvy battle past Simona Halep in the 2017 quarterfinals.
HOW THEY GOT THERE: A powerhouse field at the 2017 Nature Valley International lived up to its promise when six of the world's Top 10-ranked players moved into the quarterfinals of the Premier event. At the bottom of the draw was a intriguing encounter between World No.2 Simona Halep and 6th-ranked Caroline Wozniacki.
Having fallen as low as World No.74 in the rankings the previous season due to injuries and inconsistent form, former World No.1 Wozniacki made a stirring run to the 2016 US Open semifinals as an unseeded player, kicking off her return to the Top 10 by the middle of 2017.
The Dane came into her 2017 grass-court debut in Eastbourne on a mission to hoist a singles trophy, having lost in three finals earlier in the season. Wozniacki's stellar history at Eastbourne made a deep run quite likely, as she had won the event in 2009, and reached three consecutive Eastbourne semifinals between 2013 and 2015.
Halep, meanwhile, was back up to her career-high ranking of World No.2 after a run to her second Grand Slam final at Roland Garros in her previous event. She was also in the running to achieve the World No.1 ranking for the very first time that week, depending upon how the Eastbourne event shook out.
Rain, however, played havoc with the schedule during the week, and both Wozniacki and Halep had to claim round-of-16 victories earlier in the day if they wanted to face off in a quarterfinal tilt later that afternoon.
Wozniacki had no problems in her first match of the day, garnering a straight-set win over 2016 Wimbledon semifinalist Elena Vesnina. Halep, however, had a true scare against two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, squeaking past the Bulgarian 6-7(6), 7-6(4), 7-5 to book the meeting against Wozniacki just hours later.
WHAT HAPPENED: Coming into their quarterfinal showdown, Wozniacki and Halep had split their four previous encounters, although they had not faced each other in over two years, and never on grass.
With not much recent data to back up any sort of predictive surety, as well as the grueling nature of the compressed schedule, a topsy-turvy opening frame was to be expected. A steely Wozniacki eased to a 5-2 lead before Halep's game kicked into high gear, as the Romanian used pristine passes to eventually pull level.
Two games later, a backhand winner on set point gave Halep a fifth consecutive game, completing a majestic comeback to claim the opening frame 7-5. Halep held onto her momentum in the opening stages of the second set, as a forehand winner down the line gave the Romanian a dominant double-break lead at 3-0.
The tables turned, though, as Wozniacki began to mix up her game more effectively, using the low bounces of the grass court to her advantage while Halep's form dipped. From a dire position, the Dane stayed sturdy, and methodically willed her way back into the set.
After pulling back to level footing, Wozniacki claimed a critical game when she staved off four break points at 4-4. Allowing Halep to convert any of those chances would have given the Romanian her first chance to serve for the match, but the Dane held on for 5-4. Bolstered by that feat, Wozniacki broke Halep at love in the subsequent game to take the second set, tying up the clash.
Despite dropping serve in the opening game of the decider, Wozniacki's all-court game and excellent footspeed won the day from that point forward. The Dane reeled off six straight games to clinch her second victory of the day, ending the affair with a forehand winner. Wozniacki's 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 win over Halep propelled her into the fifth Eastbourne semifinal of her career.
WHAT THEY SAID: Back into the Eastbourne semifinals once again, Wozniacki expressed her comfort with the event in her post-match press conference. "I really enjoy it here," the Dane stated. "I think it's a great event. I think Centre Court is very cozy. I like how the fans are sitting close to the players."
Wozniacki was nonplussed about the up-and-down nature of the match against Halep. "I was in control and felt like I was really dictating the game," the Dane said of the first set. "Even at 4-1, I still felt like I was dictating, but all of a sudden, even when [Halep] was in the corner, all of a sudden she came up with these crazy shots and angles. It's like, I don't know what to do with that."
"I think she really stepped it up and really started to play well and forced me to do some errors and really go even more for my shots," Wozniacki continued. "Obviously it's frustrating losing a set like that, but then I just kept keeping my head down and tried to keep staying aggressive. It paid out in the end."
Meanwhile, Halep was pensive about the loss afterwards. "It was a tough match," the Romanian said during her post-match press conference. "I think I played really well, but in the third set I was a little bit tired. It's normal, I played many sets today. But it was a good match and in the end [Wozniacki] was stronger."
Coming off a clay-court season where she won a plethora of matches, Halep said switching over to grass was "different, totally different, the game. The time of the balls, the points here are fast. Still I played two hours every match."
"I feel that I started to play well on grass even if I had a good clay court season, and I was, like, 100 percent there with everything, the feelings and the game," Halep continued, looking forward to Wimbledon. "But now I switched fast. I feel ready. But we'll see. Every match is difficult on grass."
WHAT IT MEANT: Wozniacki would go on to beat British hope Heather Watson to reach her fourth final of the season, booking her first appearance in the Eastbourne championship match since her title-winning run in 2009. The Dane lost to Karolina Pliskova in a straight-set final, but her resurgence continued.
Wozniacki finished 2017 with a bang, finally winning her first singles trophy of the year in Tokyo, then claiming the biggest title of her long career at the WTA Finals in Singapore, with a win over Halep en route. Wozniacki ended the year at World No.3, her best season-ending ranking since the second of her back-to-back finishes at World No.1 in 2011.
Halep also successfully rebounded from the Eastbourne loss, making the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the second straight year. The Romanian continued her consistent season and was eventually rewarded with the year-end World No.1 ranking for 2017.
Wozniacki and Halep's progressions culminated in a fascinating manner in the next season's first Grand Slam event, with the duo facing off in the 2018 Australian Open final -- the winner would claim their first-ever Grand Slam title and finish out the event at World No.1.
The exhausting, epic final in Melbourne went the way of Wozniacki, as she defeated Halep for the third straight time to win her maiden major title, wresting the World No.1 ranking away from the Romanian in the process. In the summer of 2018, Wozniacki would come back to Eastbourne and win the title.
Halep, though, would reclaim the World No.1 ranking from Wozniacki later in 2018, and the Romanian also notched her long-awaited first Grand Slam title at the very next major in Paris.