NEW YORK—When you watch Caroline Wozniacki's game casually, you might thing she’s little more than a wallboard. The ball comes back, and comes back some more. And it is true that consistency and defense are her specialties; no matter how many times her father comes out and urges her to give her forehand a rip, she’s never going to blow anyone off the court.
But those who watch Wozniacki closely know that when she’s on her game, she’s more of a brain than a board, and more of an athlete than many people might think. For much of her fourth-round match against Maria Sharapova on Sunday, Wozniacki, a former No. 1 and U.S. Open finalist, was on her game again. In what she said was one of the most satisfying performances of her career, she beat Sharapova for the first time since 2011, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
Wozniacki was her old, subtly disruptive self in the early going. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, she was the one controlling the rallies, with placement, variety, and a little bit of chutzpah. She broke Sharapova for 2-0 by following a crosscourt backhand with a crosscourt forehand winner. She hit an ace and a service winner to hold for 3-0, and came up with two winning volleys to hold again for 4-1.
Wozniacki changed directions with the ball enough to be unpredictable, but not enough to be risky. You could even see find her limit and pull back. At 3-1, 30-30, with things going her way, Wozniacki stepped forward more aggressively than normal and went for a big backhand down the line. It caught the tape. The shot looked rushed, un-Caro-esque. She seemed to know it, because with her next backhand, she sent a careful slice approach down the line and won the point at the net.
“I’m serving well, I’m running well, I’m staying aggressive when I have to, and I make the right decisions at the right moment, and I enjoy playing,” said Wozniacki, who nearly dropped out of the Top 20 this spring, when she asked what she’s been doing right of late. She hit 22 winners and was eight of 11 at net, respectable numbers for a so-called wallboard.