01/24/2018 20:28 EST | Updated 01/24/2018 21:05 EST

Wozniacki beats Mertens, reaches 1st Australian Open final

MELBOURNE, Australia — Caroline Wozniacki was able to control her nerves this time, reaching her first Australian Open final seven years after squandering a match point and losing in her only previous run to the semis at Melbourne Park.

Former No. 1-ranked Wozniacki is potentially one win away from a breakthrough Grand Slam title after advancing 6-3, 7-6 (2) over Elise Mertens on Thursday.

It's her first Grand Slam final anywhere outside of America, where she lost U.S. Open finals in 2009 (to Kim Clijsters) and 2014 (to Serena Williams).

Wozniacki appeared to be coasting against the 22-year-old Mertens, getting breaks in the middle of each set. But she began getting tight when she was serving for the match at 5-4: From 30-15, she double-faulted twice and Mertens passed her with a forehand winner in between to level the set at 5-5.

The No. 37-ranked Mertens lifted her intensity, holding her serve at love and then having two set points in the next game before Wozniacki eventually held in a serving game lasting 8 1/2 minutes.

Wozniacki dominated the tiebreaker, putting memories of her last Australian Open semifinal behind her — she had match points against Li Na in the semifinal in 2011, but was unable to convert.

This time, experience helped.

"It means so much to me. I got really tight at 5-4. I kind of felt my head against the wall," Wozniacki said. "I knew I had to try and stay calm.

"Once she had set points. I thought, 'OK, now you just have to go for it ... she's nervous now, too."

Mertens, who trains at Clijsters's academy in Belgium, was appearing in the semifinals on her debut at Melbourne Park and in just her fifth Grand Slam tournament. She had won 10 matches in as row after successfully defending her Hobart International title two weeks ago.

She took out No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina in straight sets in the quarterfinal but was struggling to match a consistent Wozniacki until late in the second set.

Wozniacki's win moves here a step closer to potentially regaining the No. 1 ranking, a position she hasn't held in six years.

No. 1-ranked Simona Halep was playing two-time major winner Angelique Kerber later Thursday in the second of the semifinals.


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