Sweet Caroline: Wozniacki back on top of the world with Australian Open win after sounding so sour in Hong Kong
From seeming despondent about her chances of regaining the world No 1 spot in Hong Kong two and a half months ago, Wozniacki reaches the summit once more with gutsy win against Simona Halep
Sports fans in this city are fond of belting out the chorus to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, one of the go-to hits for the stadium DJ every year at the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens.
But, speaking at a charity food kitchen in a hairnet and apron last October as she served up free meals for elderly Hong Kong residents, Caroline Wozniacki seemed a little more sour than sweet on the idea she could rule the tennis world again.
“Number one is incredible, it’s something very special and very few people have done it,” the Dane, then ranked sixth, told the Post at Food Angel in Sham Shui Po.
“Right now, to be honest, it’s not really my aim because I just think about trying to do well here.
“If I happen to be No 1 that will be amazing and a bonus. But if I don’t get it then that will be OK as well.”
On Saturday, two and a half months later, she did get it – leapfrogging Simona Halep at the top of the world rankings by beating her in the Australian Open final 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-4.
As Wozniacki paraded the trophy to the Rod Laver Arena crowd after an instant Melbourne classic, Diamond’s classic song got its obligatory airing over the PA system.
“I’m sorry, I’m just taking a second here to hug this,” the 27-year-old had said, clutching the trophy ever so tightly as she stepped up for her presentation. “I’ve dreamt of this for so many years. It’s a dream come true. My voice is shaking. I’m going to cry, I’m very emotional.”
After slugging it out with Halep in a brutal encounter that went two hours and 50 minutes, with both players taking medical timeouts, Wozniacki finally won her first grand slam in her third final.
She is back on top of the world rankings more than seven years after she first claimed the No 1 spot.
Since pulling out before her second-round match as defending champion at the Hong Kong Open with an elbow injury, everything has gone Wozniacki’s way.
Lee, an NBA champion with the Golden State Warriors in 2015, was there in the player’s box living every point with his fiancée. It was to him that an emotional Wozniacki ran after collapsing to the court in tears, her resurgence made official when Halep dumped a forehand into the net on championship point.
“I want to thank my fiancé who is here tonight,” said Wozniacki. “I was a nervous wreck this morning, I wanted to win so badly and you managed to calm me down.”
And so Wozniacki won her country its first grand slam – all hail the Great Dane. To think, she had faced match point in the second round in Melbourne.
“I want to congratulate Simona, I know today is a tough day, I’m sorry I had to win,” continued Wozniacki. “I’m sure she will win many matches in the future. It was an incredible match, an incredible fight. Again, I’m sorry.”
“I also want to thank my dad,” Wozniacki added of her coach Piotr Wozniacki. “He’s been there from day one when I was seven years old. He’s stood by my side every step of the way.”
There was also a cheeky request for her agent.
“I’m hoping I’m finally going to get that Elle cover,” she said, laughing.
Wozniacki had been runner-up twice at Flushing Meadows, and Halep twice at Roland Garros, but it is the Romanian whose wait goes on.
The Dane raced out of the blocks, winning the first three games before taking the first set on a tiebreaker, but Halep levelled the match before going off court for treatment on a leg injury.
What followed was a wild third set, with eight breaks of serve in 10 games. Wozniacki had looked down and out when Halep broke to lead for the first time at 4-3, but Wozniacki reeled off three straight games after taking her own medical timeout.
“Of course I’m sad I didn’t win today but Caroline was better than me,” said the 26-year-old Halep. “I have many years to go so hopefully I will have another chance. Maybe the fourth time will be lucky.”
It had been more than nine years since Wozniacki’s first major final, and seven years since she was crowned back-to-back year-end No 1 in 2011.
The Dane struggled for form in 2012, but a very public break-up with golfer Rory McIlroy in 2014 after they had already sent their wedding invitations out seemed to spark her back into life.
She reached the second grand slam final of her career at the 2014 US Open, but injuries and more inconsistent performances until last season suggested she may never get back to her best.
So while McIlroy was over 7,000 miles away in Dubai storming to the halfway lead at the Dubai Desert Classic, himself having found new love with wife Erica Stoll, this must have been the sweetest moment of closure Wozniacki could have imagined.
“I hope you enjoy this moment, thank you so much for being here and having this moment with me,” she said to Lee.