Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki enjoyed unquestionably the finest moment of her career at Melbourne Park in 2018, where she won her first and only Grand Slam title, beating Simona Halep in a thrilling final. But just two years later, the former-world #1 brought her career to a close at the same venue, losing to Ons Jabeur of Tunisia 5-7 6-3 5-7 in the third round, having fallen down the rankings after a battle with rheumatoid arthritis.
Wozniacki announced her plans to retire after the 2020 Australian Open in December, citing an inability to compete at the level she was used to and to focus on off-court pursuits, including potentially starting a family and campaigning to raise awareness of rheumatoid arthritis. However, in spite of those intentions, Wozniacki showed in the early weeks of 2020 that she was still a force to be reckoned with in the women’s game.
In her final WTA event at the Auckland Open, the Dane stormed into the semifinals, scoring creditable wins over tour-level stalwarts Lauren Davis and Julia Goerges, before falling just short against Jessica Pegula in the last four. She maintained that fine form through the first two rounds in Melbourne, hammering Kristie Ahn in her opener before edging past Adelaide International finalist and 23rd seed Dayana Yastremska, 7-5 7-5.
Wozniacki had looked to be in good touch at the beginning of her clash with Jabeur, drawing first blood with an early break. But Jabeur grew into the match, levelling the opener before breaking late to seal it. Wozniacki, with nothing to lose, stormed back into contention in the second set, delivering a typically battling display to keep her hopes of reaching the second week alive by levelling the match. But it was not to be for the 29-year-old.
Jabeur broke through first in the decider and although Wozniacki managed to recover that break, she ultimately had no answer for the Tunisian’s power. Jabeur, who had never previously reached the second week at a Major, at times looked to be struggling with nerves, but some big serving helped to rescue her cause when she came under pressure midway through the decider. Wozniacki, without that power from the line to rely on, faltered as she served to stay in the match down 5-6.
The defeat denied her the chance to face her friend and rival Serena Williams, who also fell just short against 27th seed Wang Qiang, in what would surely have been the pick of the fourth-round action. But it was perhaps fitting that the end should come against an athletic big-hitter such as Jabeur. Wozniacki built her career on skill, touch and a superb competitive spirit in an era where power increasingly became the decisive factor on the WTA Tour.
That is a trend that has continued with the likes of Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu amongst the leading lights of the next generation. Wozniacki had to struggle throughout her career to get the better of such players and it is to her great credit that she accomplished so much. She may nonetheless be disappointed to see her career end before her 30th birthday, but she was at least able to end her career on her own terms, which is a rare privilege in the modern game. But one the Dane richly deserved.
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