If you are surprised that Caroline Wozniacki failed to reach the semifinal round of the 2018 WTA Finals, it is important to give credit to Elina Svitolina, who picked up her game and used motivation as fuel to knock Denmark’s best out of Singapore on Thursday. Svitolina’s resurgence provides a plot twist to a WTA Finals tournament which is becoming increasingly known for unpredictability. The Ukrainian has also set the stage for her 2019 season — that is a storyline to watch.
Yet, more will be said later this week about Svitolina, since she will be playing on Saturday in the semis. On Thursday, we bid adieu to two of the WTA Finals participants until next year. In this piece, Tennis With An Accent assesses the 2018 season delivered by Wozniacki.
Let’s start with the big news from Thursday: Wozniacki disclosed after her loss that she had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis before the U.S. Open. WTA Insider provided this story with ample remarks from Wozniacki about her situation.
The ability to win the Beijing Premier Mandatory tournament while managing this condition rates as an extra-special achievement for Wozniacki. You can certainly note that autumnal tennis often features less-than-complete fields. Players either lose early or are physically worn down by the length of the season, not in position to play their best tennis. Yet, even though Wozniacki’s path through the Beijing draw wasn’t loaded with seeds, it did have some tricky opponents — such as Wuhan finalist Anett Kontaveit, who very nearly beat Wozniacki at Wimbledon earlier this decade, and the rapidly improving Chinese professional Wang Qiang. Being able to handle six matches and roll through each of them in straight sets displayed Wozniacki at her clinical best. She was, without a doubt, the best player on the court that week.
Winning a Premier Mandatory doesn’t count for less because it happens in autumn. The pervasive reaction on tour to Wozniacki’s resurgence in Beijing was marked by admiration for the ability to fight through injuries in the summer. Her discomfort and physical limitations were evident in Montreal against Aryna Sabalenka. It was clear that the “real” Wozniacki wasn’t able to shine through with her body consistently constrained. That she found her form so quickly after a rough August was a manifestation of the fighting qualities which have kept Wozniacki in the top tier of women’s tennis for several years.
That she won Beijing while also confronting a problem which was alarming and scary only adds to luster of what she achieved this fall.
You could take that Beijing championship alone and, given all of its circumstances — some known at the time, more known a few weeks after the fact — view it as one of the best accomplishments of the year.
The reality that it wasn’t even Wozniacki’s top feat of 2018 underscores the significance of this season for the dynamic Dane, and how lustrous it will long remain in her memory and the memories of Danish sports fans.
At the time it happened, Wozniacki’s 7-5-in-the-third-set win over Jana Fett in the round of 64 at the 2018 Australian Open seemed like a moderately notable event. Yes, a No. 2 seed escaped an early exit, but how many people thought, “This could be the portal to a first major championship for Woz”?
In retrospect, that escape from 1-5 and double match point down in the third set became the stuff of legend.
Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Helena Sukova, and other terrific women’s singles players over the decades who never won a major title could tell you that winning even one of those prestigious trophies is anything but guaranteed. They know. How remarkable it was, then, that Wozniacki won her breakthrough title only after seeming to be a goner in the second round. Wozniacki and Simona Halep both entered the Australian Open final having saved multiple match points. They joined Angelique Kerber (2016) and Li Na (2014) as Aussie Open finalists this decade who saved match point en route to the big stage. Wozniacki outclassed Halep in a high-quality three-set match, losing ground midway through the third set but once again finding the finishing kick she had discovered against Fett.
The circle had been completed and a career had gained its crowning moment. “The Best Player Never To Have Won A Major” would never be associated with Wozniacki again.
That moment represented validation and affirmation for a player who had spent many years giving it all she had to climb the mountain and track down a prize which had consistently — and sometimes, very narrowly — eluded her.
How fitting it is: As Wozniacki’s 2018 season ends, her Premier Mandatory win in Beijing — occurring against the backdrop of an arthritis diagnosis — enables us to appreciate Caro’s relentless work ethic and supreme focus once more.
This was a 2018 journey to admire on so many levels. It is the year Caroline Wozniacki is likely to admire the most when she reflects on her career in the decades to come.
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