On May 21st this year Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki announced the end of their engagement. On May 25th McIlroy played magnificent golf to win the PGA Championship at Wentworth. On May 27th Wozniacki crashed out of the French Open in the first round – her earliest loss at Roland Garros for seven years. Looking "distraught and tearful" at her press conference after the match, the Danish former world number one seemed to be playing the part of the weak, spurned woman – nursing a broken heart while her ex-fiancée was hitting the form of his life.
McIlroy's subsequent golfing achievements have been well recorded, but at this year's US Open at Flushing Meadows, Wozniacki has been showing that hell hath no fury like a top tennis player scorned. Sailing through the early rounds, she took out Maria Sharapova in the Round of 16 before demolishing Sara Errani in the quarters 6-0, 6-1. The Dane has a good match-up in tomorrow's semi-final; she faces the unseeded Chinese player Peng Shuai. If Wozniacki prevails, she will most probably meet her new best friend Serena Williams in Sunday's final.
“Yes, it has been a pretty up down and year” Wozniacki wryly remarked after securing her semi-final slot. Since her French Open melt down, it’s actually been up, up and away for the Dane; her win-loss ratio since the McIlory split has been an impressive 17-3, she has moved up three ranking points to become world number 11 and she is beginning to recover the form that made her world number three years ago.
“Right now I’m happy being single and doing what I want to do, the things I haven’t been doing the last few years” she said at the Open last week. The specific thing she hasn’t been doing the last few years (apart from wearing high heels) is winning. Put simply, McIlroy was bad for her game. Before she started going out with McIlroy in July 2011, the figures show that that she had a 81-13 win: loss record, won 10 tournaments and rose to the number one ranking. One year into the relationship and her win: loss record was way down to 37:21, she only won one tournament and her ranking plummeted to number nine in the world. Maybe the wrong person broke off the engagement.
Wozniacki has had a great summer. After a so-so Wimbledon (she made it to the fourth round), she went on to win her first post-McIlroy tournament in Istanbul in July. After a double-bagel in the first round (winning 6-0, 6-0) she cantered into the final, winning easily 6-1, 6-1. It was during the Istanbul Cup that she had a bitchy/humorous dig at the 5ft 8 inch golfer when she tweeted how happy she was to be wearing high heels for the first times in three years.
During the North America Hard Court season she reached the semis in Montreal in July and the quarters in Cincinnati - both times going out in three, very tight sets to Serena Williams.
The two have become new best friends forever. Shortly after the McIlroy split, they holidayed together in Miami and bonded over the fact that both had been (allegedly) dumped by high profile sportsmen. Serena had been going out with rising men’s star Grigor Dimitrov before he broke it off and later turned his attentions to Maria Sharapova. According to Wozniacki, she and Serena “talk every day” and are forever tweeting each other “stay strong and focused” messages.
Their relationship hasn’t always been close. Williams wasn’t too happy about an on-court impersonation Wozniacki did of her in 2012; a humorous-in-intent impersonation which nevertheless led to Wozniacki being accused of “perpetuating an old racist stereotype of an over-sexualised black woman” by some in the media.
While McIlroy has been implying of late that calling off his engagement to Wozniacki has improved his golf, Wozniacki has been telling reporters at the US Open that golf has improved her tennis: “Golf is obviously a mental sport, sometimes it’s the small putts that can make a huge difference. You can make a few putts here and there. Same as tennis. You make a ball here, there. You know, important points, those are the ones that count” she said.
The Dane goes into tomorrow's semi-final with the whole of Flushing Meadows behind her. "Caroline Wozniacki Is Your New Non-Serena Open Favourite" screamed the headline of yesterday's USA Today newspaper. Neil Diamond's Sweet Caroline is now getting a mandatory play on the courts after each of her wins.
Lot of grief
When she was world number one three years ago, Wozniacki got a lot of grief from tennis players for hitting the top of the rankings without ever winning a grand slam. Martina Navratilova remarked at the time: “Clearly nobody feels that Wozniacki is a true number one.”
In truth, Wozniacki’s style of play never impressed. She is a “defensive” player – a euphemism for someone who plays tentative and draws the errors from an opponent instead of going for crowd-pleasing winners. Maria Sharapova – not the most gracious of players out there – got in a veiled dig at the Dane after her round of 16 loss saying: “Caroline is more consistent. She made me hit a lot balls. She’s a great retriever.”
Wozniacki’s patient, get-everything-back style ensures she beats weaker opponents but struggles against the game’s big-hitters. But slowly a different player is emerging at this US Open – she’s currently in training for the upcoming New York marathon so in the energy-sapping humidity of Flushing Meadows she’s moving that bit quicker and taking the ball earlier. She’ll still only approach the net to shake hands at the end of the game but she has been opening her shoulders on her ground strokes and whacked an impressive 26 winners past Errani in the quarter finals.
Since the “Wozzilroy” split in May, McIlroy has won two Majors and regained his World Number One position. Wozniacki is playing catch up but this weekend could be payback time.