No woman player over the past decade and beyond has competed with more integrity, ingenuity and sheer determination than the industrious and enterprising Caroline Wozniacki. The 28-year-old has achieved some of the highest honors in tennis over a long span. She concluded two years (2010 and 2011) as the No. 1 ranked woman in the world. She has finished eight of the last ten seasons among the Top 10. These past two years, Wozniacki has been stationed at No. 3. She reached two US Open finals in 2009 and 2014. She has captured 30 titles over the course of her extraordinary career on the WTA Tour. And in 2018, at long last, appearing in her 43rd career major tournament, the 28-year-old broke into the winners circle at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, securing the Australian Open crown with a gusty three-set triumph over Simona Halep.
Wozniacki is the No. 5 seed in Charleston this week at the Volvo Car Open, a Premier WTA Level tournament. She is currently ranked No. 13 in the world but could soon find herself outside the Top 20 if she does not swiftly reignite her game and start winning matches with the regularity that once was her custom. The fundamental issue for this stylish Danish competitor has been her daunting bout with bad health over the better part of the past year. She announced at the season ending WTA Finals in Singapore last October that she had been diagnosed with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
She explained at the time that her symptoms traced back to Wimbledon in 2018 when she was not feeling right. She played Washington and still was very subpar physically, and then moved on to Montreal. By then, with the US Open around the corner, she could not lift her arms above her head. She then sought help from a doctor and received treatment.
Wozniacki was struggling, but she plodded on nonetheless. All things considered, she finished 2018 reasonably well. After her distressing summer hard court campaign was littered with unexpected defeats, she lost early in Tokyo and Wuhan, but then managed to win the title in Beijing, sweeping six matches in a row without dropping a set, taking that title with her best brand of tennis in months. At the WTA Finals, having told the media about her rheumatoid arthritis, she defeated Petra Kvitova in the round robin competition, but lost to Elina Svitolina and Karolina Pliskova in hard fought contests, falling short of the semifinal cut. This was not vintage Wozniacki, but she seemed to be covering the court nearly as well as she once did.
Yet the somewhat encouraging way Wozniacki had concluded the 2018 season did not spill over into 2019. She was surprisingly ousted by Maria Sharapova in the third round of the Australian Open. She has played only four tournaments this season, compiling a mediocre 5-4 record. Sadly, the Dane has continued to confront health problems, suffering from a viral illness this year. She did not play in the Middle East and was out of action for nearly two months. But after bowing out early at Indian Wells, she won a couple of matches in Miami before losing in the round of 16 to Su-Wei Hsieh.
That showing should encourage Wozniacki to make her presence felt this week in Charleston as she steps back out onto the clay and starts down the path toward Roland Garros. She recently told WTAtennis.com:
“I feel like it’s definitely not been the greatest start to the year health-wise for me. I’m just really thankful I can be out there and play and compete. All I can do right now is just try and get the matches under my belt, try to play better. Finally, the last week or so, I really feel like I’m starting to hit the ball well in practice. Hopefully, that’s going to transfer into a match and it’s going to get better.”
Wozniacki made that comment before she made her decent run in Miami. Having played three matches on the hard courts in Florida, she should be match tough for Charleston, and more sure of herself and her game under stressful circumstances. She told WTAtennis.com that missing a couple of tournaments before the American hard-court swing and being weakened by the virus was a difficult experience.
“It’s hard when you’re in bed most of the time through Doha and Dubai. I expect a lot out of myself. Going to Indian Wells and basically not having practiced for a month, I still wanted to play well. I thought I had played pretty decent compared to how much I’d been able to practice. I was proud of my fight. I just have to keep putting myself out there and I have to just keep doing my best. That’s really all I can ask of myself right now.”
Wozniacki has a first-round bye in Charleston. If all goes according to plan, she would meet No. 2 seed Kiki Bertens in the quarterfinals. Wozniacki needs more than anything to find her range again, to remember who she is and why she has been such a central player in women’s tennis for so long, to be realistic about the challenges ahead but still push herself to the hilt.
To some degree, the immediate future is not in her hands. If her health issues resurface, if she is crippled physically once more, if she is forced to the sidelines and her schedule is disrupted, it could be an impossible task to perform up to her old high standards. But if Wozniacki is fortunate and she can regain her strength, she could return to the Top 10 and be a resurgently significant player in the upper levels of the sport.
To all of us who have watched Caroline Wozniacki play so earnestly, forthrightly and wholeheartedly throughout her distinguished career, the hope is that she will recover both her health and her rock solid ground game. Women’s tennis would be better for it.