Caro back from the brink

  • Dan Imhoff
  • Ben Solomon

Take more risks, and that final step to Grand Slam glory is yours. It is advice that has a tired old ring to it for Caroline Wozniacki, having had it thrown her way throughout a 67-week reign atop the women’s rankings.

If only it were that simple.

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Wednesday’s second-round scare in her 11th Australian Open campaign was not the type of risk those Grand Slam experts had in mind.

Taking on plucky 21-year-old Croatian Jana Fett, the Dane was in all sorts of trouble when she stared down a pair of match points at 1-5 in the deciding set before pulling off an improbable 3-6 6-2 7-5 escape.

“I was thinking at that point she still has to win four more balls to win this match, and don't make it easy for her,” Wozniacki said.

“At 5-1, 40-15, I felt like I was one foot out of the tournament. She served a great serve down the T, as well. It was just slightly out. I was kind of lucky.

“Then I felt her tighten up just slightly. I thought to myself, ‘You know what, at this point, make her win it, don't give it to her’.”

This was against the world No.119, making her Grand Slam main draw debut, a player who had lost her two matches leading in – to world No.102 Sofia Kenin in Auckland and 110th-ranked Jana Cepelova in Hobart.

Wozniacki had returned Down Under on the back of her biggest career title at the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore, where she took down four of the top five women, including Venus Williams in the final.

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On Sunday just gone, she had made the Auckland final. On Wednesday against Fett, though, she was forced to win ugly.

And sometimes, it is that kind of match a champion needs to steel themselves for a run to the title.

A stunning off-forehand winner brought up triple set point for Fett on the Dane’s serve, and the first set was in the bag when Wozniacki dumped a backhand into the net for 6-3.

It was the wake-up call the No.2 seed needed, as the wayward Wozniacki appeared to have secured her fortress when she claimed the second set.

With momentum on her side heading into the third, however, and what appeared to be an easy smash to put away at net, an out-stretched Fett had other ideas, sending the ball back at the Dane’s feet to draw the volley error. It prompted a racquet slam as the world No.2 was broken for 3-1, and before long, the Croatian had landed the double break to serve for the biggest win of her young career.

Unforced errors
35 Caroline Wozniacki
58 Jana Fett

Reeling off the final six games of the match, it was an almighty escape for the Dane.

It was not her most polished performance, but given the wide-open women’s field without the likes of Australian Open champions Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, she is still standing. And for now, that is what matters most.

It won’t be the last time Wozniacki will have to draw on that fighting spirit should she shake the monkey off her back to land a maiden Grand Slam title in the coming fortnight.

It’s a certain grit that’s in her blood.

“I think growing up in a sporty family where everyone is competitive and you hate to lose,” she said of her fighting qualities. “If you lose a game to anyone in my family, you're going to hear about it for at least a week. That definitely helped me.”

“You don't give up, even if it's a board game, tennis, soccer. Whatever it is.”