AO Journeys: Wozniacki caps career with 2018 triumph

  • Matt Trollope

Upon winning Australian Open 2018, and tightly hugging the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, Caroline Wozniacki struggled slightly to address the crowd.

“I’ve dreamt of this moment for so many years. My voice is shaking. I never cry, but today is a very emotional moment,” she said.

It was rare to see Wozniacki this way. Throughout her near decade-long run as a top-10 player, she was a gritty competitor with a sunny disposition who rarely allowed fans and media behind this marketable veneer.

After securing a long-awaited first major title at AO 2018, that veneer cracked, revealing exactly how much relief and joy flowed from her accomplishment. 

Grand Slam finals

Wozniacki had finally silenced her critics, who had insinuated her hold over the world No.1 ranking from 2010 to 2012 felt tenuous without a Grand Slam singles title. 

She came close in 2009, reaching the US Open before falling to Kim Clijsters. 

“I've really done great, and I think I should be proud what I've achieved,” she said at the time. “Obviously I don't like losing. I'm a competitor and I love winning. But I think I've had some great weeks here. I was in the finals of a Grand Slam. I'm only 19 years old.”

Wozniacki hit No.1 just over a year later as she won the China Open. And she stayed there, almost entirely uninterrupted, for the next 15 months, ending the 2010 and 2011 seasons in top spot.

Yet it took her five years to return to another Slam final, which she did at the 2014 US Open. There, Serena Williams proved too strong.

Fall, then rise

Wozniacki felt buoyed by that run in New York. However, 2015 marked the first time since 2008 that she ended a season outside the year-end top 10 and she even dipped as low as No.74 in August 2016, after a right-ankle injury sidelined her mid-year.

Still chasing that elusive major title, Wozniacki turned a corner in 2017. She soared from No.19 to No.3 in the rankings after notching a tour-leading 60 match victories, reaching eight tournament finals and winning the WTA Finals – then the biggest title of her career.

Her final press conference in Singapore was illustrative of the narrative surrounding her career. She “didn’t know and didn’t really care” when asked if she had proved a point with her triumph, and was later asked if she now felt well-placed to go all the way at a Grand Slam tournament. 

“I get this question all the time. Can we just enjoy this without talking about the future? I just want to be happy I won this one,” she replied.

“In January we can talk about Australian Open.”

Australian Open 2018

After arriving at Melbourne Park feeling good, satisfied with her previous season and hoping to build on it, she suffered a huge second-round scare when she trailed world No.119 Jana Fett 5-1, 40-15 in the third set.

“I don't know how I got back into the match,” Wozniacki said after saving two match points to eventually win 3-6 6-2 7-5. “All of a sudden seeing myself down, almost out of the tournament, I started playing the tennis that I wanted to play.”

That tennis subsequently carried her all the way to the final – one with an incredible amount at stake.

Wozniacki faced Simona Halep, a match between the top two seeds who had both previously appeared in two major finals without triumphing. The winner would be world No.1 and finally a major champion. The loser would slip to a dispiriting 0-3 in Slam deciders.

In a dramatic battle lasting almost three hours, Wozniacki emerged triumphant.

Caroline Wozniacki reacts after sealing a 7-6(2) 3-6 6-4 win over Simona Halep in the final of Australian Open 2018. (Getty Images)

After the delirious scenes upon victory, after accepting the trophy from tennis legend Billie Jean King, and after her emotional speech, Wozniacki entered the press conference room, where a reporter wondered if she was relieved to now hold the top ranking without being asked when she would win a Grand Slam title.

“Honestly, I think that's one of the most positive things about all of this. I'm never going to get that question again,” she laughed.

“Right now I'm just happy I have this one, and I'm going to really enjoy this moment.”