The Breakthroughs

By Jane Voigt

September 4, 2016 — You wouldn’t associate Caroline Wozniacki with breakthroughs. Not at this stage in her career. She has 23 titles, is a two-time finalist at the U.S. Open — 2009 and 2014 — and has pocketed close to $21 million in tournament prize money. 

Nonetheless, the Dane is having a breakthrough in New York. 

Her win today over number-nine seed and American Madison Keys, 6-3, 6-4 marked the first time Wozniacki had strung together four match wins since February 2015. 

“This is crazy,” Wozniacki said on Arthur Ashe, still breathing heavily from exertion and happy astonishment. “It’s amazing to be in the quarterfinal. Thanks so much for cheering me on although I played an American.”

Wozniacki vs. Keys USO 2016 09 04 0004

Caroline Wozniacki moved into the quarterfinals of The U.S. Open today, a place she hasn’t visited at any Major since the Open in 2014. 

The victory was not so much an upset of Keys — they had never played each other — as a confirmation of Wozniacki’s career self worth on court after nearly 18 months of injuries, tournament withdrawals, and multiple loses that could have shut down her drive for continued success at the age of 26. 

Wozniacki began the year ranked No. 17, which was her first time outside the top ten since 2009. By the time she hit The Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, it had sunk to No. 74. Yet she never counted herself out.

“I know I can play well,” she told the press later. “[It] doesn’t matter what my ranking is. I just do my thing. If I’m not in the top five, then I don’t care. The main thing is that when I’m on court I have to believe in myself."

Her self-belief was tested since the start of the year. Here are some highlights:

  • Lost in first round of Australian Open
  • Withdrew from Dubai with left knee injury, lost in third round of Doha
  • Lost opening match in Indian Wells
  • Lost in third round of Miami 
  • Came into Wimbledon unseeded for first time since 2008
  • Off court with right ankle injury for 2 1/2 months
  • Lost in second round at Rio Olympics and Washington D.C.
  • Withdrew from Rogers Cup with left elbow injury
  • Lost in first round of New Haven where she had been 4-time champion, 2008-2011.

All of Wozniacki’s matches have been played on Arthur Ashe Stadium. There’s no doubt that the big stage is a big hit with her. 

“I love it here,” she told the press later. “It’s been equal love for me with the crowds. Feels great to be put out there. I feel comfortable and familiar with Arthur Ashe [Stadium].”

Indeed. Wozniacki’s attitude and court composure today was in direct contrast to that of Madison Keys. The American came out nervous, served first and was broken. She evened things out in game two after repeated deuces. Yet, she never hit her stride.

“I think I was nervous,” Keys told the press later. “I got off to a bad start. It was a combination of me not playing my best and her playing really well.”

Wozniacki vs. Keys USO 2016 09 04 0094

Madison Keys admitted she came out nervous, that she didn’t play smart and had gotten mentally ahead of herself because she was in the second week of a slam. 

Keys ramped up her power hitting in attempt after attempt to find some sort of rhythm. At times she was brilliant, but not consistently brilliant. Wozniacki stole the show in that arena.

“Even in my service games I won,” Keys began. “I got off to a good start and then got behind. I’d try to hit winners to get back in a game. I didn’t play smart, which was the main thing. Then, I let panic set in.”

Keys was impressed with Wozniacki’s movement and ball depth.

“She’s an amazing mover,” Keys said. “She does an amazing job of keeping the ball deep, which makes a player go for too much too soon.”

Even though Wozniacki professes to be beyond the compulsion to concentrate on her ranking — “I just have fun … that’s the main thing.” — it will rise from 74 to a provisional 44 after the Open.

Konta vs. Sevastova USO 2016 09 04 0239

Anastasija Sevastova.

In her quarterfinal she will play little-known Anastasija Sevastova. The Latvian has certainly had a breakthrough at this U. S. Open, after being on the outskirts of the game for close to two years and now advancing to her first quarterfinal at a major in 15 appearances. Today, she she defeated No. 13 seed Johanna Konta, 6-4, 7-5. Earlier in the week she destroyed French Open Champion and No. 3 seed Garbine Muguruza, 7-5, 6-4. To celebrate she went to Five Guys for a hamburger. 

“We’ve played at Fed Cup,” Wozniacki said on court. “She has a lot of grit and good hands. It’s gonna be a tough match. I hope it’s here [on Arthur Ashe]."

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013