Two-plus years. Ten majors. A proposal. A breakup. It's been a long time coming for Caroline Wozniacki, but she's finally back in the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam tournament.
Wozniacki earned a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 win over Maria Sharapova in their fourth-round U.S. Open match on Sunday, advancing to the second week at Flushing for the first time since 2011. The 24-year-old Dane will be making her seventh quarterfinals appearance at a major championship but her first since the 2012 Australian Open.
Flushing Meadows has been a constant source of frustration for Maria Sharapova since her 2006 title. She's made it past the fourth round just once at the U.S. Open since her title.
Meanwhile, Wozniacki has thrived in New York. On the shortlist of most recognizable faces in women's tennis, Wozniacki brought her record to 2-0 against Sharapova at Flushing Meadows. Despite hitting 39 winners to Wozniacki's 22, Sharapova exits in the fourth round for the third time at a major in 2014.
Wozniacki pulled ahead in the first set amid numerous mental mistakes and unforced errors from Sharapova. Playing an aggressive, attacking style, Sharapova attempted to dictate the pace of the match by getting Wozniacki on the run but couldn't find placement. She had three double faults and 21 unforced errors in the set—three times that of her opponent.
The mistakes led to eight different break-point opportunities for Wozniacki, who converted two and overcame losing her serve once to take the set 6-4. Erik Gudris of USA Today noted that Wozniacki looked much better than usual playing volleys:
Despite Sharapova doing an excellent job of getting her first serve in play, Wozniacki managed to nearly take half of her receiving points. She was playing the beautifully patient game that's been present for much of the last week, making consistently accurate returns and waiting for Sharapova to make a mistake. Wozniacki continued to look in fine form athletically too, no doubt helped by her recent marathon training.
“I think it only helps,’’ Wozniacki told reporters earlier this week. “I’m excited about it. Training has been working well. It hasn’t hurt my tennis. It’s helped get in great shape mentally as well, having to push yourself every day to go out. It’s only a positive on the tennis court. You know you can run all day if you want to."
Of course, Sharapova opponents know they are not going to beat her without a fight. Beginning in the second set, the fifth-seeded Russian did just that. Continuing her all-around aggressive play, Sharapova continued to smack returns near the lines—only this time they started staying in.
Sharapova turned her match around with a series of forehands and ripped two-handed backhands, making only a dozen unforced errors against 22 winners. She and Wozniacki went back-and-forth on multiple lengthy rallies, with the latter always seemingly scrambling just to make the return. It was a night-and-day performance for Sharapova, running out to a 3-0 lead on consecutive breaks to force the deciding set at 6-2.
With momentum swinging heavily in Sharapova's favor, Wozniacki needed to make a statement. A point in her fourth-game break of Sharapova flipped the match on its head and helped spur a Wozniacki win. Ahead 40-0 with break point, Wozniacki ran all over the court for four beautiful returns to keep the point alive, eventually forcing Sharapova to hit her own return into the net and go down 3-1. As Wozniacki raised her arms to pump up the crowd, you could see the life going out of Sharapova's tournament.
She held serve from thereon out and then broke Sharapova one last time for good measure to close out the match.
The match showed divergent paths between two of the sport's most famous faces. In 2010, it was Sharapova who was nearly a half-decade removed from her last Grand Slam and stuck with the entire world wondering if her prime was over. Four years later, Sharapova has won two of the last three French Opens and had defeated Wozniacki three straight times.
One has to wonder if this will spark a turnaround for Wozniacki.
Winning Sunday should open the road for her to be the favorite in the bottom half of the bracket. Early exits from second-seeded Simona Halep and fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska left the field wide open.
World No. 1 and defending U.S. Open champion Serena Williams is still very much alive, but Wozniacki won't have to contend with her until a potential final. Sara Errani, against whom Wozniacki has only lost once in her career, awaits in the quarters. The only top-10 player on the bracket's bottom half is Jelena Jankovic, who is still yet to play her fourth-round match.
It's possible her win over Sharapova will be Wozniacki's toughest match of the entire tournament before the final. With Williams boasting two straight U.S. Open titles and five overall, it's hard to consider anyone else a favorite. That said, Wozniacki's perseverance on Sunday showed she's here to stay.
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