Caroline Wozniacki played the classic hits on Wednesday at the Australian Open.
This was one more for the road, one last glorious and shimmering moment. It was a memory to cherish forever, a defining example of a champion who remained formidable as long as her body was able to cooperate in the task of playing professional tennis.
The recent history of the women’s Australian Open contains several examples of champions who came extremely close to losing in the first week of the tournament, but escaped, and then picked up steam en route to a treasured title.
This was Li Na’s journey in 2014. It was Angelique Kerber’s path in 2016. It was Noami Osaka’s journey last year. In 2018, Caroline Wozniacki wrote that story.
In the second round against Jana Fett, Wozniacki was down 5-1 in the third set. She had to deal with multiple match points. Wozniacki saved them, and slowly built the foundation for a comeback. She closed the gap. She asked more questions. She bought time. She gave Fett a chance to lose.
Six games later, Wozniacki had won, 7-5 in the third. A week and a half later, she won the first major championship of her career.
That career was supposed to end against Dayana Yastremska, a talented ballstriker with a bright future… but a present-tense penchant for losing the plot in short but devastating sequences.
When Wozniacki fell behind 5-1 in the first set, everything pointed to the end of Wozniacki’s on-court journey, but Wozniacki had the Fett match and numerous other experiences to call upon.
She had not only been here before (it can be overrated to have “been somewhere before” if being somewhere isn’t dealt with successfully). She had SUCCEEDED here before.
Sure enough, Wozniacki polished her game and asked those pesky questions, refusing to donate cheap points or give Yastremska a clear line of attack.
Six games later, Wozniacki had pocketed another 7-5 set with a massive rally. She lost match points at 5-4 in the second set, but with the match hanging in the balance, Wozniacki proved to be the steadier player and avoided a third set.
This was a masterclass of the mind, an innergame classic.
All the competitive virtues, all the qualities and characteristics athletes train themselves to display in high-stress situations, all the signature aspects of Wozniacki’s substantial career — forged in the face of the power merchants and all-court authors of the WTA Tour — emerged in tipping-point moments against Yastremska.
Wozniacki has given herself a chance to earn a spot against Serena Williams in the fourth round. If that happens, it would be a fitting and appropriate stage on which this luminous career can take a deserved final bow.
Yet, if Ons Jabeur beats Wozniacki, nothing will change — or take away from — the fact that Caroline Wozniacki left one last great monument to her excellence at this, the last major tournament of her career.
One cannot put a price on those memories. To have forged such a moment at this tournament lends an extra element of completeness to a career which did in fact reach the highest mountaintop.