Caroline Wozniacki is three wins away from winning her first grand slam title, but the fear of failing again no long haunts a player who has learned to ignore the expectations of others.
Wozniacki, who came perilously close to losing to the 21-year-old Croatian, Jana Fett, in the second round, was commanding in her quick 6-3, 6-0 win over Magdalena Rybarikova on day seven of the Australian Open. But, at 27, she seems way more composed than in the past. The close call might have been the reminder she needed that this tournament is still a lottery.
“I feel good,” the second seed said. “Being almost out of the tournament, you have nothing to lose after that. I played really well from being down 5-1. Since then, I’ve just kept that going.
“It’s so long ago,” she says of the last time she made the quarters in Melbourne, in 2012. “I don’t really know [how her game has changed]. All I can say is I’m in a good place. Everything has been going well the last year and a half or so.”
That is the voice of contentment – to go with the smile from toothpaste heaven. Nobody glows quite like Wozniacki when life is going her way. But she has been in this situation many times, especially when she was world number one and consistently failing to win a grand slam title.
On Tuesday she plays Carla Suarez Navarro, who continued the assault on the seeds in this tournament, putting out number 32 Anett Kontaveit, 4-6, 6-4, 8-6. Renowned as the best footballer among the women on the Tour, Suarez Navarro beat Wozniacki on the clay of Madrid last year, but did not have a great season.
“We’ve had a lot of tough encounters on hard courts as well, three-set gruelling matches,” Wozniacki said. “I’m expecting a tough fight. She had a tough season last year. She also had a few injuries. But she’s back playing really well.”
She’s also the only player left in the women’s draw with a single-handed backhand. “Tennis is going to more power, faster,” the Spaniard said. “Years ago, all the players would play with one hand. Now we are losing it. But maybe we can open a little bit more the court with the angle. Maybe we slice a little bit better.”
As for trends, Wozniacki sees the increasing number of older players doing well as a healthy situation. “The most frustrating thing about tennis, is that you can always get better. You can even see that in Roger [Federer] or Rafa [Nadal] , who are some of the best players ever. They come back year after year, and they play even better, though you think it’s almost impossible.
“It inspires everyone else to step it up, try to play better. I have a long way to go.”
Navarro had a much tougher match, recovering from a set and 4-1 down to defeat Kontaveit 4-6 6-4 8-6.
The Spaniard and Wozniacki have met seven times before, with Wozniacki winning five but none of them easily.
She said: “We’ve had a lot of tough encounters, three-set gruelling matches. I’m expecting a tough fight. She had a tough season last year. She also had a few injuries. Obviously she’s back playing really well.”
The semi-final looks very likely to be a clash between Wozniacki and fourth seed Elina Svitolina, who breezed past qualifier Denisa Allertova 6-3 6-0 in a match that finished close to 1am.
The Ukrainian, who next plays in-form Belgian Elise Mertens, is through to her third grand slam quarter-final and has never been further.
Svitolina said: “I’m very pleased with the performance. It’s not the first time going into a tournament as one of the favourites. It adds more pressure but also gives you that extra confidence. I’m trying to take one match at a time because everybody is ready to play. I just try to do my best and see how it goes.”
Mertens won the warm-up event in Hobart and is enjoying her best ever run at a slam, beating Croatian Petra Martic 7-6 (7/5) 7-5 in the fourth round.