By Jane Voigt
On a sunny, hot day on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Caroline Wozniacki and Shuai Peng started their semifinal match.
The wind swirled, causing havoc. Breaks of serves mounted as did lengthy rallies … 22 shots, 19 shots. On and on they battled, moon balls slowing the pace of play, sweat dripping.
Fittingly, a tiebreak decided the first set. Wozniacki knocked it out. One more and she’d advance to her second U. S. Open final, the last being in 2009.
Peng knew she could become the third Chinese woman to play in a Grand Slam final, if only she could win two sets. She had not dropped one the entire tournament. Now she was down one. The reality seemed to motivate her.
She came out swinging and went up 2-0. Then, rather uncharacteristically, her level of play went off. She missed a funky volley, double faulted twice, and couldn’t move her feet. Her lead vaporized.
A couple games later, chaos.
Peng grabbed her knee and stumbled to the back court. Could not move. She leaned against the wall of the stadium while a trainer trotted to her aide. Another official came to the scene as Wozniacki looked for answers. She kept limber, taking a couple serves from the other end of Arthur Ashe. Maybe Peng would bounce back. Tournament Referee Brian Earley appeared; he appeared equally confused.
The chaos ensued.
Peng’s pain intensified; her face contorted. This was not the semifinal the U.S.T.A. had in mind. No one wanted to witness the suffering. And, she was suffering.
Peng was escorted off court for a ‘medical evaluation.’ No official Medical Time Out was called. No one hinted at a point penalty.
Tournament Director David Brewer told CBS that an off court medical assessment can “take a reasonable amount of time.”
Then … poof, back comes Peng. A bit wobbly, but determined to be courageous, to finish.
She lasted a couple minutes, if that, and crumpled to the ground obviously extremely ill.
With the help of two medics Peng was taken off court in a wheelchair. She was pressing her chest, grabbing her shoulder and stomach. The distress was palpable.
Peng retired from the semifinal reluctantly. Not too much later, Eurosport reported that she had suffered heat stroke, which was later corroborated by the tournament. The condition is dangerous and requires body temperatures be lowered quickly.
The history books will forever read, 76(1) 43, Wozniacki wins, with ‘Retired’ added to the scoreline. That will haunt the Chinese woman who fought with such pride and conviction in her 38th major, having never been to a semifinal in singles. So much hope. So much weight on her shoulders for the sake of her country. What would people think?
“It was definitely hard to watch,” Caroline told the stunned crowd. “You want to finish it off properly. I feel for Peng. I hope she’ll be okay.”
Commentators for CBS — John McEnroe and Mary Carillo — were caught in an awkward position during all this. Neither was sure of the rules, yet opinions flew. “She never should have been allowed back on court for a host of reasons,” John McEnroe said. Later he added, “It was horribly badly bungled. A serious black eye for the sport.”
Should Peng have been accessed a penalty point or game for the time she took, well over 10 minutes? Steve Johnson was handed a point and game penalty when he cramped in his first-round loss, which ended with his retirement.
Why did the doctor and trainer allow her to return to the match, after such a dramatic exit where she could not even walk without help?
Tournament Director David Brewer later told CBS, “It was determined that Peng was not facing a life-threatening condition.” He also said she wanted to return to the match, so they allowed it. He added that the situation was handled correctly.
The last time a player retired in a semifinal of a major was at Roland Garros in 2010. Francesca Schiavone defeated an ailing Elena Dementieva, according to the WTA.