By: Jane Voigt
The Australian Open has not been kind to Caroline Wozniacki.
She made her first trek to Melbourne in 2008, battling her way to the fourth round. She was 17. In 2011, the world looked wide open when she clinched a berth in the semifinal.
But things have gone down hill since.
In 2012, she lost in the quarterfinals. It was the fourth round in 2013. Last year, the third. And this year, her worse result ever: a second round loss.
“I think it’s a curse I’ve gotten here,” Wozniacki told the press. “Hopefully, I’m going to break that [trend] next year. I’m going to take this with means turn it into something positive.”
Always one to look on the bright side, Wozniacki seemed to know she should have won this match, but first complimented Azarenka: “I feel like her level, it’s high. She’s taking the ball early. She mixes the pace up. I think she’s at the level that she left when she stopped playing.”
When prodded by the press, Wozniacki admitted, “In general, I think I did okay. But at the same time I let her dictate. She played cross-court; I played cross-court back. I should have opened it up a little bit earlier and just tried to make her play my game.”
In other words, Wozniacki fell into a familiar pattern, one that she had seemed to have broken in the later stages of 2014. Her aggression was much more noticeable at the US Open, for example. She gritted her teeth, pulling off a fourth-round win over the then-No. 5 seed, Maria Sharapova. If Wozniacki, seeded No. 8 in Melbourne, had advanced today, she most likely would have run into top seeded Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. The two friends had the rivalry of last season, culminating with a three-set epic in Singapore.
The Dane can play, but she didn’t do enough Thursday night. Their head-to-head record had favored Wozniacki going in. But that familiar feeling, precise ball-strking, early contact, and willingness to come to the net let Azarenka light up about as bright as her tennis-ball yellow kit from Nike, which, she said, matches her intensity on court.
“So the energy and intensity stayed there with the outfit,” Azarenka told the press. “But, really, that’s how I play. I try to imply that intensity. I play aggressive. I think that’s one of my trademarks. Not the outfit, but the intensity.”
The intensity for Azarenka is on the rise following a dismal 2014. She had feet and knee problems; plus, she ended a meaningful relationship with singer, Stefan “Redfoo” Gordy.
Azarenka lost her first match back to rising star, Karolina Pliskova, in Brisbane earlier this month. It was a long and arduous ordeal. Looking for more match play before the Australian Open, she asked for a wildcard into Sydney but was denied. The tournament had already assigned them.
She, like Rafael Nadal, coming back after injury time off, had to accept who stood across the net even though Wozniacki and Azarenka are friends.
“I knew I’m unseeded so I can play anybody,” Azarenka said. “I just accept whoever is on the opposite side. But I don’t know how I feel on that level of sympathy. I think when you are on court you kind of have to forget about it [the friendship]. But we’ll have some fun after this tournament, so … No worries.”
The two women seemed to have been closer years ago, something like the friendship Wozniacki and Williams share now. In the spring 2011, Azarenka gushed about Wozniacki after winning Miami: she’s a good fighter, plays every ball, can turn a match around, and that kids should look up to you as a role model.
“Well, first of all,” Wozniacki began in kind a few weeks later in Charleston. “I have to say that if I’m not the one winning the tournament, then I’m happy that she was the one; and she’s a great friend of mine and we had very good tournaments, Indian Wells and Miami. I won Indian Wells and she won Miami.”
Does Wozniacki feel the same in 2015? Perhaps, but it might be harder if they continue to meet in second rounds instead of sharing titles.
For now, instead of the expected quarterfinal between “Caroline and Serena,” bank on Azarenka playing spoiler.
Follow Jane on Twitter @downthetee!