Caroline Wozniacki was crowned Australian Open champion yesterday in Melbourne, after finally prevailing over Simona Halep (7-6, 3-6, 6-4). She is also about to return to the WTA number 1 spot for the first time since 2011. The 27-year-old Dane had held the top spot for 67 weeks previously, a record only second to Serena Williams’ 319 weeks in recent years. However, not having capped her reign with a Grand Slam title has haunted Wozniacki’s career for years. Critics and media loved to bring that up any chance they got (together with claiming she is nothing more than a tennis pusher), regardless of her consistency over the years. Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud had even gone as far as including Wozniacki in his definition of a tennis “journeyman”.
Did Wozniacki need to win a Grand Slam title to validate an already impressive career? Do 2 weeks and a fina,l decided in the balance, affirm or negate one’s value as a top player? In the long run, the answers is clearly no. Caroline Wozniacki has been present in the most important WTA tournaments, consistently, for over a decade. She has won 27 singles titles, reached Grand Slam finals (particularly successful at the US Open) and was never an easy opponent for anyone who faced her on the court. Following a series of injuries in 2016, she worked on her fitness and came back stronger, climbing up the WTA rankings slowly but steadily once more. But in the wake of her triumph in Melbourne, Caroline can proudly claim that she is no longer a slamless world number 1.
Wozniacki vs. Halep Australian Open final
This year’s final in Melbourne was special for several reasons. First of all, it would be the maiden Grand Slam title for either of the contestants. Secondly, both Wozniacki and Halep had saved match points en route to the final, showing incredible resilience. Finally, it turned out to be a battle of wills, as each of the players had to face and overcome a challenge relatively new to them.
Simona Halep has battled with the mental part of her game for years. In 2017, she briefly split with her coach Darren Cahill, crediting her attitude as the reason Cahill called it quits. Throughout the next months, Halep has shown incredible resources mentally, particularly after she claimed the WTA number 1 spot. It’s as if being proclaimed the best player in the world lifted the pressure off her shoulders and allowed her to play more freely. In the final against Wozniacki, surprisingly, Simona didn’t collapse or break down because her mind let her down. It was her body that started to shut down after logging over 13 hours of play, in the matches leading up to the final. Particularly her semi final against Angelique Kerber was a grueling affair and a rollercoaster.
Her opponent on the other hand, rarely had any problem moving opponents around the court, with her amazing retrieving skills. During the AO final against fatigued Halep, all Wozniacki had to do was just what she always excels at. Yet, Caroline seemed mentally affected by her opponent’s situation and the stakes of that particular match. Had she been able to call her dad for some on court coaching, the final would have probably been shorter. But eventually Wozniacki managed to get it together and prevail against Halep, digging deep in the process. Besides, mental toughness is a key ingredient to be a winner in sport and in life.
Featured image by Christian Mesiano (Caroline Wozniacki) via Wikimedia Commons