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Caroline Wozniacki’s Fitting Farewell To Tennis

The 29-year-old tennis star might not have been praised by everybody, but her upcoming departure will leave a noticeable gap on the WTA Tour.

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Caroline Wozniacki poses with the 2018 Australian Open women's trophy

It was news that many expected in recent weeks, but when it was announced there was still a sense of shock.

 

In less than two months time Caroline Wozniacki will end a career that has made her the most decorated Danish Tennis player of all time. In a lengthy Instagram post, she confirmed the upcoming Australian Open will be her last tournament. She states that her decision is not health-related and instead wants to embark upon other activities. Including starting a family with her husband David Lee. A former NBA player who retired in 2017 at the age of 34.

“I’ve always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it’s time to be done,” Wozniacki wrote. “In recent months, I’ve realized that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court.”

Wozniacki’s rise in the sport started almost 15 years ago on the junior circuit where she eventually peaked at a high of number two. She claimed a series of prestigious titles, including the 2006 Wimbledon Girls title and was runner-up at the Australian Open that same year. Due to her results, she stopped playing junior events at the age of 16.

“I am only 16 years old, but if I train hard, have some luck and avoid injuries, then I think it is possible to get to the top. And then I get the opportunity to take part in the victory party at Wimbledon,” she told Kristeligt Dagblad back in 2006.

Whilst never managing to get her name on the Wimbledon trophy, the 29-year-old still managed to excel on the court. Guided on the tour by her father, Piotr, she quickly emerged as one of the rising stars of the sport by cracking the world’s top 20 at the age of 18. Aided by her first trio of WTA titles won during the second half of 2008. Generating rapidly rising interest in her back in her home country.

Establishing herself as a top player, it was just a matter of time before she would clinch the No.1 spot. She achieved the milestone in October 2010 when she reached the quarter-finals of the China Open, which she went on to win. Wozniacki would go on to hold the No.1 position for 71 weeks during three separate periods throughout her career. The ninth longest span in the Open Era on the WTA Tour.

The grand slam struggles

During the majority of her time at the top, Wozniacki’s struggle to claim a grand slam title placed her in line for numerous criticism. Some of which at times were unfair. The high expectation stemmed from the 2009 US Open where she reached the final at the age of 19. One of the most (if not the most) critical articles to come out was from Bleacher Report, who blasted Wozniacki when she was just 20!

“Wozniacki has struggled her whole career to triumph over top players on the biggest stages, and it’s not just a coincidence that she has failed.” the article reads.
“Caroline Wozniacki may be the women’s No. 1 player according to the ranking system, but she doesn’t deserve to be.”

At one stage it did appear that the window for Wozniacki to clinch a major trophy had closed, but she never gave up and finally achieved her goal. Nine years after her first appearance in a grand slam final, she won the 2018 Australian Open. Taking on Simona Halep in a dramatic final, she prevailed 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4, after almost three hours of play.

“It’s really nice not to have to answer the ‘no Grand Slam’ question ever again and now finally I have the world No 1 and a Grand Slam title. It’s very special.”

So far Wozniacki has played in 50 grand slam tournaments. Winning 117 out of 187 matches played.

The off-court challenges

Caroline Wozniacki at the 2019 Australian Open (photo Roberto Dell’Olivo)

Injuries and burnouts had blighted the Dane throughout her career, but just months after lifting the Australian Open trophy Wozniacki faced a whole new challenge. After suffering from bouts of illness, she was eventually diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. A long-term autoimmune disorder that affects the joints. There is no cure for the condition which can cause swelling, stiffness and pain in numerous parts of the body. Symptoms can also include tiredness and a fever.

Despite the diagnosis, Wozniacki never blamed the condition on any of her performances on the court. Even when she announced her retirement, the Dane stressed that it wasn’t health related.

“It makes some things more challenging, but I feel great in the day-to-day. I feel like I can do anything, and I’ve won some of my biggest titles of my career with this illness,” she told people.com earlier this month. “I never wanted to use RA as an excuse for anything.”

In In her retirement plans, Wozniacki has already outlined her goal to want to promote her condition. Hoping to inspire others.

“We’re launching a new health education campaign centred around rheumatoid arthritis,” she said. “I felt that it was important that I use my platform to share my story and show that anything is possible, regardless of RA.”

Why retire now?

Currently ranked 37th in the world and yet to turn 30, it could be argued that Wozniacki should carry on playing for a couple more years. However, she has never wanted to do that. When asked during the 2015 Dubai Tennis Championships if she wanted to emulate the Williams sisters and play into her 30s, she replied ‘no, I don’t think so.’

Wozniacki has the luxury of being able to retire on her own terms. Now approaching the end of her tennis career, she has won 30 WTA titles. She has won just over $35.2 million in prize money, which is the fourth highest of all-time for a female tennis player (as of this week). To put into perspective how popular she has become in Denmark, newspaper Ekstra Bladet devoted 12 pages to her following the announcement.

“She’s the greatest athlete we’ve ever had here,” former Danish player Peter Bastiansen wrote in an editorial for bt.dk.
“In the field of individual sports, she has achieved the greatest ever by a Dane, considering that she has been number one on the world rankings on several occasions and won a grand slam.”

Whilst Wozniacki is likely to end her career without multiple grand slam titles, her determination enabled her to stay among the top of the women’s game for almost a decade. Something even her critics have to admire her for. It is only fitting that she should end her career at the venue where she achieved her grand slam dream.

Women’s tennis will lose a big figure in the sport, but her legacy will stay forever.

Wozniacki’s career in numbers

30 – number of WTA titles
71 – weeks spent as world No.1
432– Wozniacki has won more matches on a hard court than any other non-American player on the women’s tour
630 – number of matches won
$35,218,415 – prize money earned so far

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Kim Clijsters Still Capable Of Top-Level Wins, Says Former world No.1 Murray

Murray gives his verdict on Clijsters’ current form and if she can return to the top of the game.

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Image via WTA Insider on Twitter

Andy Murray believes it is only a matter of time before Belgium’s Kim Clijsters is able to return to her winning ways on the Tour.

 

The 38-year-old is currently in the process of her latest comeback which has been hampered by both injury and the COVID-19 pandemic. Since returning to the Tour at the 2020 Dubai Tennis Championships, Clijsters has only played in five tournaments and is yet to win a match. Her most recent defeat was at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells where she was ousted 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, by Hsieh Su-Wei.

It was in Indian Wells where Clijsters held a hitting session with Murray who says he was impressed by her level of play. Speaking to reporters in Antwerp where he is playing in the European Open this week, the three-time Grand Slam champion believes she is heading in the right direction.

“She still hits the ball fantastic. I think the decision-making and things like that will come with more matches,” atptour.com quoted Murray as saying. “I think physically she can get stronger. I think that was probably one of her biggest strengths when she was at the top of the game and as successful as she was.
“With more time, more matches, more time on the practice court, physically she’ll keep getting better. It’s not easy after such a long time out of the game, but I’m sure she can still win matches at the highest level, judging on how she’s handled herself so well.”

Following her most recent match, Clijsters said she is progressing well on the Tour given her lack of match play in recent times. She has only played two matches this year. The other took place in Chicago where she lost to Keterina Siniakova in three sets.

“I think for me the most important thing is that, what I talked with my coach and my trainer about, my fitness coach, was physically being able to get through these matches without big concerns. That was the main goal,” Clisjters said following her loss to Su-Wei.
“I came close, but still have a good feeling about, you know I’ve made progression and I think that’s the most important thing.”

Clijsters has won 41 WTA titles during her career with the last of those occurring a decade ago at the 2011 Australian Open. She has held the world No.1 spot for 20 weeks and has earned more than $24.5M in prize money.

It is unclear as to what tournament Clijsters will be playing next.

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Aryna Sabalenka Believes Experience Is The Key To Grand Slam Glory

The world No.2 reflects on her year so far as she aims to end the season on a high.

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Aryna Sabalenka returns a shot during a Women's Doubles quarterfinal match at the 2021 US Open, Tuesday, Sep. 7, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Darren Carroll/USTA)

This year has been full of mixed emotions for Aryna Sabalenka when it comes to playing in the four most prestigious tournaments of the sport.

 

In the Grand Slams the world No.2 achieved the best performances of her career to date by reaching the semi-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open. A breakout run for the Belarussian who had never gone beyond the fourth round of a major until this season. She was denied a place in her maiden final by Karolina Pliskova and Leylah Fernandez with both of those matches being three-set encounters.

Whilst Sabalenka has a lot to be proud of when it comes to these results, does she have any regrets as well?

“I would go back to my semifinal matches at the US Open and Wimbledon. I would have tried to do everything differently – maybe I would have been less nervous,” she told reporters during her pre-tournament press conference at the Kremlin Cup. “The game was very nervous, and I would have returned to these matches to worry less.”

The 23-year-old believes her experiences will place her on a strong footing going into future Grand Slam events. In recent years she has also turned to the help of a sports psychologist but says it doesn’t fully prepare her for the real thing.

“I have been working with a psychologist for a very long time. In fact, if you look at me 4 years ago and now, I have improved my psychological condition,” she said.
“It seems to me that no psychologist will prepare me for these situations (in Grand Slams). You need to go through it yourself, feel it, get nervous, understand this situation for yourself.’
“I’m more than sure that the next semifinal at the Slam I won’t be so nervous. I will act more confidently, I won’t make the stupid errors that I made in important moments in the last semi-final. It’s a matter of experience, you need to go through it. I don’t think a psychologist will be able to prepare for this.”

So far this season Sabalenka has contested three Tour finals, winning titles in Abu Dhabi and Madrid. Overall, she has won 43 matches on the WTA Tour which is the third highest tally after Barbora Krejcikova (44) and Ons Jabeur (48). She is also currently at a ranking high of second in the world and has defeated three top 10 players – Krejcikova, Ash Barty and Simona Halep.

However, Sabalenka believes there is still room for her to improve further. She is currently coached by Anton Dubrov who previously worked as her hitting partner for 18 months.

“I think I played very consistently this year, but, of course, it is possible to be more consistent. I have to keep working on myself, be more consistent. I think I’m moving in the right direction, I just need to keep working on myself.” She states.

This week’s Kremlin Cup will be the first tournament Sabalenka has played since the US Open. She was forced to miss Indian Wells after testing positive for COVID-19 which left her bed bound for four days. Whilst admitting she is yet to reach her full fitness since being ill, Sabalenka is not letting that get in her way.

“I’m not in my best shape, but I know that I need the upcoming matches in the Kremlin Cup, because I haven’t played for almost a month. Maybe I haven’t returned to 100% of my physical form, but psychologically I am at my maximum and ready to win no matter what.” She concludes.

Sabalenka is the top seed in Moscow and will begin her campaign against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic.

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Leylah Fernandez Overcomes Pavlyuchenkova To Reach Indian Wells Fourth Round

It was a tough day at the office for the US Open runner-up.

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Leylah Fernandez (Darren Carroll/USTA)

Leylah Fernandez pulled off one of her famous comebacks in the Californian desert beating the number nine seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 41 minutes.

 

The Canadian hit 24 winners in the win while the Russian hit 46 unforced errors in a match that went back and forth before Fernandez was able to pull through in the end.

“What I am most proud of is the way that I fought and honestly today wasn’t my best performance,” Fernandez said afterwards. “But I fought for every point and I was trying to figure things out. I was proud I was able to find a way to get back in the match and get the win”.

After holding serve in her opening service game the world number 28 started putting the pressure right away on the Russian by getting two early break points but failed to convert.

At 3-3, it was Fernandez facing the pressure on her serve and the world number 13 had four looks at a breakpoint. On the fourth the Canadian cracked and double-faulted for the first break of serve of the match.

The Russian lead didn’t last long as the Canadian responded right away in the following game and the next four games went with breaks of serve as both players were struggling to hold serve.

Pavlyuchenkova eventually served for the set at 6-5 and was able to serve it out to take a 7-5 lead.

Pavlyuchenkova carried the momentum into the second set and broke Fernandez’s serve in the first game of the set but at 2-1 got broken once again and the set went back on serve.

It stayed on serve until 4-3 when Fernandez managed to get the crucial break of serve and that was enough for her to serve out the second set.

The first four games of the third set went on serve and at 2-2 again it was the Montreal native earning a breakpoint and breaking once again and despite facing pressure from the Russian was able to serve out the match.

After the match in her on-court interview, Fernandez was asked about all the support she has been getting recently and what it means to her to play on such a big stage.

“I got goosebumps,’ she said. “I was super excited to play here in Indian Wells for the first time and to play in a stadium where so many legends played who fought and won so it’s an honor to be here. I can’t wait to play my next match”.

Fernandez will next face the American Shelby Rogers in the round of 16 on Tuesday after she beat the Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 6-0, 6-2.

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