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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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Karolina Pliskova Finding Her Footing With The Help Of New Coach Krajan

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Karolina Pliskova (CZE) playing against Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) in the semi-final of the Ladies' Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 10 Thursday 08/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

Karolina Pliskova’s resurgence on the Tour comes at a time when she has formed a new partnership with a well-known coach. 

After her first round loss at the Australian Open to Elena Rybakina, the Czech won nine consecutive matches on the Tour. In Romania, she claimed her 17th WTA title at the Winners Open before reaching the semi-finals of a WTA 1000 event in Doha. However, she was unable to play her semi-final clash against Iga Swiatek due to a lower back injury. During this period she has improved her ranking from 77th to 36th. 

Pliskova began the season without a coach at her side but is now working with Croatia’s Zeljko Krajan. A partnership she believes is showing promising signs already. 

“Personality-wise, I think he’s kind of similar to me,” Pliskova told WTA Insider. “Not really high or low. Relaxed and very like calm. 
“We didn’t really plan yet anything because now the schedule was difficult. I might be in qualifying in Indian Wells. Maybe I enter San Diego. So I don’t really know what’s gonna be. I’m just living day by day at the moment.” 

Krajan has worked with a series of players on both the WTA and ATP Tour’s. He guided Dinara Safina to three Grand Slam finals between 2008 and 2010. He has also worked with Borna Coric, Laura Robson, Marcos Baghdatis, Jelena Jankovic and Dominika cibulkova.

Pliskova, who is a former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, has endured a roller-coaster journey on the Tour in recent months with mixed results. Last season she failed to win back-to-back matches at 11 consecutive tournaments. 

So how has she managed to regain her form on the Tour?

“Motivation was never really a problem for me,” Pliskova said. “If I go on the court no matter how bad or good I feel, I always want to win. I always want to compete. 
“But my game is based on confidence and I need to feel that. Even if I’m not playing well or winning many matches, I just need to find that confidence in that moment or in that game because it’s just so risky. My shots are so flat, so I go for mostly lines. If something is not going well or you start to doubt, then of course you miss a little bit. Everything is about this.”

Unseeded at this week’s Dubai Tennis Championships, Pliskova beat China’s Zhang Shuai in the first round. She will next play Ashlyn Krueger in the second round on Tuesday.

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Elena Rybakina Eases Past Kasatkina To Win Abu Dhabi Open

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Elena Rybakina has captured her second title of the season after beating an erratic Daria Kasatkina in straight sets at the Abu Dhabi Open. 

The world No.5 stormed to a 6-1, 6-4, win over the Russian in just over an hour. It is the third time in Rybakina’s career that she has beaten Kasatkina on the Tour and she now leads their head-to-head 3-2. The triumph comes a month after she won the Brisbane International, which is also a WTA 500 event. 

Rybakina’s latest match saw her capitalise on her opponent’s costly mistakes. Kasatkina struggled with her serve throughout the majority of the final and only managed to hold twice in eight attempts. Opening the door for the former Wimbledon champion who hit 17 winners against 12 unforced errors en route to victory. 

“I want to thank the fans who came this week,” said the new champion. “It has been an amazing atmosphere, especially to see flags from Kazakhstan. It means a lot, thank you so much.”

A one-sided 25-minute opening set saw Rybakina claim four straight games to clinch an early lead. During to the opener, Kasatkina only managed to win 26% of her service points. It was the fourth time in the tournament that the Kazakh had won a set by conceding two or fewer games. 

Fortunately for world No.14 Kasatkina and the crowd, there was more of a battle in the second frame. Twice in a row Rybakina worked her way to a break advantage before losing it in the following game. Then at 4-4, she dealt the decisive blow by hitting a clean forehand winner to break yet against and this time had a chance to serve for the title. With the rain starting to fall, she converted her first championship point with the help of another error from across the net. 

The defeat for Kasatkina comes a day after she came through a marathon three-hour semi-final match before criticising the WTA over their tournament scheduling. She is currently set to play in the Qatar Open with her opening match taking place tomorrow. It is the sixth time in a row she has been beaten by a top-five player on the Tour. 

“Congratulations to Elena, you’ve had a great week,” she said.
“Thanks to my team who has always been next to me. I am really proud of the job we’ve done and how we are doing. Thanks for always believing in me.”

Rybakina also referred to the demanding calendar during the trophy presentation. 

“Tough week (for Kasatkina), especially the last matches. Tomorrow there is already a match in Doha but hopefully, we will both recover and do well there. Maybe also play (against each other) in the final there,” she said. 

Unlike Kasatkina, Rybakina has a first round bye in Doha. She has now won seven WTA trophies so far in her career. 

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Ons Jabeur Hoping For Better Fortunes In Doha Despite Injury Concerns

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Ons Jabeur (TUN) playing against Venus Williams (USA) on No.1 Court at The Championships 2021. Credit: AELTC/Jon Super

Ons Jabeur is optimistic that she will be ready in time to play at her next event in Doha after suffering an emotional exit from Dubai on Friday. 

The two-time Wimbledon finalist was in tears during her straight sets loss to Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarter-finals. Jabeur later revealed that her emotional reaction was linked to the reoccurrence of a knee injury in recent days which has troubled her in the past. She said the pain can differ at various tournaments but in Dubai, it was causing her significant discomfort. 

“I’m an open book, an emotional person. I like to show myself. One thing I have learned is to accept the emotion, and if I try to hide it, it will not make me feel good,” Jabeur told reporters in Doha at a pre-tournament press conference. 
“So it’s good to let it out and be done with it than to keep it inside and probably will make more problems for you later.”

Despite the setback, the world No.6 intends to play at the Doha Open which gets underway today. She will be the fourth seed in this year’s draw and will be playing in the event for the first time since 2022. Last year she was forced to skip the Middle East swing after having surgery to treat an enlarged nodule which was obstructing her airway and preventing oxygen from reaching her lungs. 

“I’m very happy to be back. I’m obviously happier than last year,” she said. “I’m glad to be united with my fans here, and hopefully it’s going be a great week for me.
“I have been struggling with the knee for a long time, and last week was very, very tough. Hopefully, I can recover in time and then play better here in Doha.”  

This time of the year has always meant a lot to the Tunisian, who has spoken on numerous occasions about her aim to inspire more players from her region to take up tennis. She is the first Arab player to reach a Grand Slam final, crack the top 10 in the WTA rankings and qualify for the season-ending Tour Finals. 

“It is very important to be here to connect with Arabic crowds. I feel so much love here in the region, and obviously, that’s one of the reasons I chose to play Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai, because I feel so good here.” She said.

Declaring she is ‘happy’ with her rhythm on the court, Jabeur will begin her campaign in Doha against either Lesia Tsurenko or Turkish wild card Zeynep Sonmez.

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