By David Kane, Special for Tennis Grandstand
How fitting that Caroline Wozniacki’s disastrous first round loss should take place beneath a full moon.
After all, three years ago “Sunshine” had her breakthrough Grand Slam victory at a US Open night match. Two years ago, she entered the tournament as the #1 seed under the shadow of Serena Williams’ absence, and took out Maria Sharapova in full shade, and last year she was thoroughly outhit under the lights by Williams, who definitively denied Wozniacki the opportunity to prove to pundits that she belonged at the top of the women’s game. Throw in today’s new low and one can trace Caroline’s time in Flushing and discover her to be a true tragic heroine.
The fight that had been Wozniacki’s trademark appears to have completely disappeared; even in matches against much stronger players, the image of a scrambling Caroline doing everything she can to keep the ball in play is a familiar one, and one we constantly witnessed as she grinded her way to the top of the world rankings. Seriously, when was the last time you remember Caroline Wozniacki not running down even the most surefire winners?
It was a game style that, devoid of power, rubbed most the wrong way, mostly because it didn’t seem fair that a “better” ballstriker or shotmaker could be undone by a “pusher” who did little besides putting the ball back in play. There were many moments where Wozniacki seemed destined to laugh last (on the court, at least), but ultimately I would argue that her hyperdefensive game, the very thing that helped her skyrocket to #1, kept her from the Grand Slam title she needed to validate her high ranking.
The general mood in the uncharacteristically empty Louis Armstrong stadium was one of befuddlement, and the spell didn’t break during the Dane’s medical timeout her knee. It failed to wane as Irina Camelia Begu, who also hadn’t beaten a top 10 player this year, smacked aces and winners past the “The Danish Wall.” And even the plaintive cries of children shouting, “Come on, Caroline!” were silenced when their player began shanking badly on her much maligned forehand side.
It was hard to get a read on the audience witnessing Caroline’s tragedy unfold, and why the audience hadn’t grown when the whispers of a potential upset got louder. Did everyone expect Wozniacki to make a miraculous comeback? The idea isn’t too farfetched, given her consistency and Begu’s complete lack of experience when it came to dealing with the situation in which she found herself. Perhaps, after the fall from number one, the first round loss at Wimbledon and the recent knee injury that ended her New Haven winning streak, this wasn’t the upset that it seemed to be.
She was injured; she hasn’t been playing that well. We can come up with a few excuses and move on.
The most tragic answer of all? Maybe whether it was an upset or not is irrelevant, that even if Wozniacki was 100% or playing better, she was never going to win this tournament anyway. The player who vowed to improve her game to win Slams at the start of the year is a shadow of her former self, true, but even her former self ostensibly lacked the firepower to take matches out of the hands of the best players, so while people may have expected her to beat an unknown from Romania, *where* she loses isn’t nearly as important as the sinking feeling that a loss was always on the cards for the latest victim of the Slamless #1 curse.
David Kane is an avid tennis fan reporting from the grounds of the U.S. Open. You can follow him on Twitter @ovafanboy.