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Caroline Wozniacki is back – and on fire at the US Open

NEW YORK — Caroline Wozniacki watched from the sidelines as her longtime friend Serena Williams bid her electrifying farewell to the 2022 US Open. As Williams dazzled the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium in her three singles matches, Wozniacki, pregnant and already retired, was in the arena and at practices, offering words of support and cheers.

But while Wozniacki, a former world number one and 2018 Australian Open champion, was happy to be there for Williams, that’s not what sparked her idea of ​​returning to the sport.

“[Her final US Open] “It was something very special,” Wozniacki said on Friday. “But I wasn’t really thinking about my own comeback at the time. I was trying to figure out how I’m going to handle two kids.”

His own spark came later. After the birth of her son James in October, she started hitting balls with her father. It was there, on the pitch near her home, that she realized she was hitting better than she ever thought she could – and enjoying it more than ever. After more than three years away, she knew she wanted to come back.

Now, less than 11 months after James was born and a year after Williams’ career came to a dramatic end, Wozniacki is officially back, feeling the crowd love herself in Ashe. On Friday, she came back beating American Jennifer Brady 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in front of passionate fans to advance to the fourth round of the US Open. Williams, who gave birth to her second child last week, was watching from home.

The moment was not wasted for Wozniacki.

“You go there and you believe in yourself, but to be here and play with Arthur Ashe in front of all the amazing people here…I said that after the last game, but I didn’t think I was going to be from new here,” Wozniacki said during her on-court interview on Friday, as spectators in the stands gave her a standing ovation. “When I retired three years ago, when I had my two children, I thought I would only look from the outside, but to be able to play here and now I’ve won two matches here, what an honor It is. “

Wozniacki, 33, returned to the Canadian Open last month and recorded one win in two tournaments before arriving in New York. But at the US Open, she was on fire. A two-time runner-up, Wozniacki defeated No. 11 seed and two-time Major Champion Petra Kvitova in the second round against Ashe on Wednesday and is back in week two of the tournament for the first time since 2016.

“It’s always hard to play Caro, even [though] she didn’t play for a few years,” Kvitova said after their match.”[It] I didn’t feel like she was missing.

Wozniacki arrived in New York ranked 623rd. She is currently 239th in the live standings and she would improve nearly 100 more places with a win on Sunday. But she will have to overtake world number 6 Coco Gauff in what will be the biggest test of her comeback. Gauff, 19, won titles in Washington DC and Cincinnati in the preseason events and lost just one game in the hard-court summer swing. Gauff fought back to defeat No. 32 seed Elise Mertens in the third round 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Gauff couldn’t hide her excitement about the match when she addressed the Ashe crowd on Friday night.

“A match I never thought I would have to play,” Gauff said. “When she retired, I remember maybe saying to her or in an interview, ‘I would have liked to play her,’ so that wish came true.”

The similarities between Wozniacki and Gauff are numerous. Like Gauff, Wozniacki found success early on and broke into the top 10 at the age of 18. She knows all too well the pressure and expectations that come with being a teenage star, as well as the endless “When is she going to win a major tournament?” questions that follow. Wozniacki reached his first US Open final aged 19 and has now advanced to the second week of the tournament in three different decades.

Gauff didn’t want to call it a battle between generations because “[Wozniacki is] still fit and strong,” but it’s definitely a battle between generational talent.

If Wozniacki wins Sunday’s showdown, which will no doubt come down to Ashe, she could potentially set up a quarter-final clash with world number 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek. But Wozniacki certainly wasn’t thinking that far ahead on Friday. She seemed very excited about spending time with her children and having dinner with family and friends later in the evening – and she said her focus was exclusively on the present.

“I think when you’re young you always look to the future,” Wozniacki said. “You have hopes and dreams of what your career will look like. For me, coming back now, I don’t know how long I’m going to play. I get asked that question all the time. Will I play a year? Am I going to play five years? I have no idea.

“All I know at the moment is that I’m really enjoying this moment. To be able to play on these big courts in front of a huge crowd is something very special and something I will never take for granted. , something I will always appreciate.”


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