In a clash of two of the best movers on tour, Caroline Wozniacki was able to pull off a big upset over No. 2 seed Simona Halep. In the Stuttgart semifinals, the World No. 5 defeated the reigning French Open finalist, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 — after a grueling three-hour encounter.
“I could tell, she grabbed her leg at one point,” Wozniacki said, remarking on Halep’s physical condition. “And, you know, that’s when the fun begins for me…but you know, I’m feeling good out there, I can still run and keep going. Seeing the opponent starting to get tired that’s when you know that your hours in the gym, your fitness is paying off.”
After splitting two tight sets, the former No. 1 knew that she had a great chance to come through in the third, seeing that Halep had been struggling a little with her back. While the Romanian threw everything into the balance towards the end of the first set, her 2014 US Open runner-up realized that her opponent was beginning to tire ever so slowly.
The crisp footwork we’re used to seeing from Halep began to crack after the first two sets — which took two hours and 20 minutes alone — and the Dane was relentless in punishing her opponent throughout, making her play one more ball and run the extra mile.
“In the end, yes, I was tired a little bit,” the new World No. 2 admitted. “She was more fresh than me. I had tough matches before, so I expected that I would be a little bit tired today because I know how she is playing. She’s playing very well on court. That’s why but I feel okay.”
Halep had some trouble with her back this week, but ultimately felt it was a minor issue — nothing that made her consider withdrawing, though she felt the odd jolt of pain here and there.
“Yes, I touched my back a little bit but it wasn’t very bad. I felt a bit of pain but it was okay. I feel it when it’s too bad and that’s why I continued to play, because I knew that it’s not dangerous to continue. So, I feel okay and there is nothing very bad there.”
In a tactical reversal, Wozniacki often resorted to the backhand slice when stretched out wide. While hers may lack textbook execution, she made very good use of it in order to get herself back into rallies when her opponent tried to open up the court.
“It’s effective and I’m using it whenever I feel I need to get out of trouble to mix up the pace. Especially the way that Simona’s is playing, using the angles and pulling me wide, I had to use it at times because I couldn’t get in good enough position to actually hit it properly.”
Wozniacki was understandably elated over having taken out two of the best clay courters in Halep and Carla Suarez Navarro in Friday’s quarterfinal, and feels her fortunes on the red clay have turned around.
“Yes, now I officially I think, I have won more matches than the last three years combined!”, the Dane joked. “I don’t know if that’s totally correct. You have to probably check the stats.
“Well, obviously I’m playing well on clay too now. Maybe it’s going to be my favorite surface. I’m just happy with the way I played. It’s been a good week so far. Hopefully I can finish it off well tomorrow and have a good week of rest at home and practice and just fine tune a few things.
“It’s definitely a great start for me for this year’s clay season.”
In tomorrow’s match Wozniacki will be meeting hometown favourite Angelique Kerber, who ended Madison Brengle’s surprise run in Stuttgart in emphatic fashion.
“The score is actually easy, but the match was, of course, tough. She played here very good. But today, I think I’m really happy about my performance. I was playing very good, very aggressive from the first point.”
When asked about meeting the World No. 5 in the finals of the biggest tournament in her home country, Kerber said that she’s expecting an interesting match.
“I saw a little bit from the match today. I think she is in a great shape. She played very well, she’s moving everywhere on the court. So, I think that tomorrow it will be a tough match against her and also the matches before in the past that we played it was always a tough battle.”
For Brengle it was the end of a banner week, and though she was disappointed with her loss, the American still had quite a lot to cheer about.
“I really enjoyed playing on the clay, I gotten some amazing matches. So it’s definitely a positive week. Hopefully I will continue to have a great clay court season; this is a good start and I’d like it to keep going.”
The former and the current World No. 5s will be meeting tomorrow at 2.30pm local time in Stuttgart in front of a sold-out, enthusiastic crowd. For both Wozniacki and Kerber, the red clay has been akin to fairy dust on their seasons, and a magical final just may be in the cards.
Who do you think is going to win Stuttgart? Wozniacki or Kerber? Sound off in the comments!