September 6, 2014
When Caroline Wozniacki faces Serena Williams in the US Open final, she must put their friendship right out of her mind if she wants to win her first Grand Slam title.
Wozniacki won through to this year’s final when poor Peng Shuai had to retire with cramp, though she was already behind 6-7 (1-7), 3-4. It was heartbreaking for Peng and her millions of fans in China. Some thought the tension of the occasion had contributed to her physical breakdown.
‘I said “no, no, I don’t want to give up,”‘ Peng explained later. But that’s what she had to do.
Williams had an even easier semi-final than Wozniacki. She completely overwhelmed Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-3 – and stifled the suggestion of a comeback from the Russian to get off court relatively early. So now it is Caroline against Serena, a fascinating clash of friends who have been to the beach together, shopped and lunched together this summer. Serena has been a shoulder to cry on ever since Wozniacki was dumped by the world’s best golfer, Rory McIlroy. Except that Williams and Wozniacki have done more laughing than crying together.
Yet their relationship certainly hasn’t always been so cosy. Indeed there was a sarcastic disdain about Serena’s tone whenever she was interviewed about Wozniacki and her top-of-the-world status a few short years ago.
Williams made no secret of the fact that she considered it faintly absurd. How could a woman who had never won a Slam be ranked so highly? How could anyone call Wozniacki number one, when there could be no doubt about who was really the best player in the world? That, of course, in her eyes at least, was very definitely Serena.
Perhaps Wozniacki agreed deep down, because she has hardly ever been able to cope with Serena psychologically when they have met on court. The Dane’s record is a disappointing 1-8 against the intimidating American.
More recently, Caroline has won the first set before being overwhelmed in the next two – in Cincinnati and Montreal this summer, for example. So we can look forward to a great final, a bruising battle between two powerful and increasingly agile women, whose physiques have changed of late to accommodate a more complete all-round game. However, if Wozniacki really wants to claim that first Grand Slam title, she should play herself a few recordings of that Serena disdain from the “old days”.
Tennis is a brutal business. To compete psychologically you need every possible weapon at your disposal.
Caroline Wozniacki has the rest of her life to be friends with Serena Williams if she so chooses. But once play starts in their much-anticipated final, Williams must become the enemy – or else we will see the same outcome as usual. Wozniacki is the one with the point to prove. There is a score to settle, whether she recognises it or not. Time to get mean, Caroline. Then you’ll have more reason to smile and be friendly later.
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