MELBOURNE, Australia—For the second time in the tournament, Simona Halep faced match points and knew one mistake would mean an exit from the Australian Open and the likely loss of her No. 1 ranking.
For the second time in just over a week, she attacked rather than take the safe approach.
The 26-year-old Romanian saved two match points, then needed four of her own, against 2016 champion Angelique Kerber before winning 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in the semi-finals.
Halep will face No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki in the final on Saturday, with one of them guaranteed to win a first Grand Slam title.
The winner also will be No. 1 when the next rankings are released.
Wozniacki, who beat Elise Mertens 6-3, 7-6 (2) in one-and-a-half hours in the first semi-final, hasn't held the top ranking in six years.
For Halep, playing in her first Grand Slam as the top-seeded player, it's a first major final beyond the clay courts of Roland Garros.
She lost French Open finals to Jelena Ostapenko last year—having led by a set and a break—and to Maria Sharapova in 2014.
For Wozniacki, it's her first Grand Slam final outside of America.
The two-time U.S. Open runner-up also had to save match points to reach her first Australian Open final.
She rallied from 5-1 down in the third set of her second-round win and said she's been “playing with the house money” ever since.
Previous Australian Open winners have saved match points en route to the final, but no woman has done it in two matches.
Halep is hoping to change that—saying that saving triple match point in her third-round win against Lauren Davis that finished 15-13 in the third set had set her up mentally for the pressure of the semi-finals.
Wozniacki squandered a match point in an Australian Open semi-final match against Li Na seven years ago, but held her composure this time around and converted her first match point in the tie-breaker.
It was that semi-final loss to Li that has haunted her most among her near-misses.
“That's one of the ones that hurt extra because it was going into the finals of a Grand Slam,” she said.
"I felt like I was playing better on the day. I felt like it was my time to get there.
“That's why it hurt extra that I lost that day, especially with being one point away,” she noted.
Halep, meanwhile, said she's had the top ranking before so winning a major has become more important.
“It's also my dream, to win a Grand Slam title,” Halep said.
“But, you know, it's always tough when you are close," she noted. ”I had this opportunity two times.
“The last one was very close.”
On the men's side, Marin Cilic also is enjoying his run at Melbourne Park, following up his quarter-final upset against top-ranked Rafael Nadal with a 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over No. 49 Kyle Edmund.
After reaching the Australian final in his 10th attempt, the 2014 U.S. Open champion will face the winner of today's semi-final match between defending champion Roger Federer and Hyeon Chung.