Wozniacki turns near-exit into confidence boost, just like past champs

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Carolina Wozniacki will face Carla Suarez Navarro next. (AP)

MELBOURNE—“I felt like I was one foot out of the tournament.” Those were Caroline Wozniacki’s words on Wednesday at the Australian Open. Now she’s into the quarterfinals after a routine 6-3, 6-0 win over Magdalena Rybarikova.

Another player once said nearly the same words here and won the whole thing.

"In the first round I was match point down and had one leg on the plane to Germany," Angelique Kerber said two years ago. "Now I have beaten Serena and won the championship. I have so many emotions, so many thoughts, but all of them good ones."

In 2016, Kerber survived a massive scare in her first-round encounter with Misaki Doi. After that, she didn’t lose a set until her final victory over Serena Williams for her maiden Grand Slam crown.

Is the same fate in the cards for Wozniacki? The Dane saved two match points in a remarkable comeback from 1-5 down against Jana Fett in the second round. She’s playing with house money now, and enjoying the shopping spree.

“All of a sudden seeing myself down, almost out of the tournament, I started playing better and started really playing the tennis that I wanted to play,” Wozniacki said.

There are a few more recent Australian Open cases to support the theory that high-caliber stars can go all the way after looking down the barrel of an early exit.

In 2015 at the Australian Open, a No. 2-seeded Maria Sharapova saved two match points in the second round against qualifier Alexandra Panova. She would reach the final, dropping just 15 games in her next four rounds. In 2014, Li Na faced down a match point in her third-rounder against Lucie Safarova. She would soon lift the trophy without the loss of another set.

Right now, Wozniacki, a two-time US Open finalist, is brimming with confidence. It also helps that she won the WTA Finals and reached the final in Auckland to start 2018.

“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Wozniacki said about Singapore. “I played some of my best tennis there. I’ve been playing pretty well. I think you could tell my confidence is pretty good: I went for a tweener today and it went in.”

The 27-year-old’s tweener—her first-ever in a match, she says—didn’t earn her the point, but it hammers home another point: just how relaxed and confident she is.

“When that went I was like, OK I’m done,” Wozniacki joked. “I can say thank you very much and leave the court right now.”

Her next opponent will present some stiffer challenges. Carla Suarez Navarro is also a counterpuncher with a similar affinity for getting every single ball back. But Wozniacki is in a zone. Against Rybarikova, she blended together an unshakeable wall of defense with 25 well-timed winners.

“I worked hard—giving everything I could—and prepared as well as I could every day,” Wozniacki said about her preparation. “When you put in the work, then you just hope that's enough. If it's not, then you go back to work and try and get better. For me, it's just been no pressure—just go out there and have fun.”

The No. 2 seed has turned her near-exit from the second round into a confidence boost.

“I think being almost out of the tournament, you have nothing to lose after that,” Wozniacki said. “You just go out there and you enjoy yourself. I played really well from being down 5-1. Since then I've just kept that going.”


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