Nate Chura is senior tennis pro at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn and covers the U.S. Open for WNYC.
A clear front-runner emerged from the women’s draw of the U.S. Open this afternoon on Arthur Ashe stadium, though it comes as no surprise.
One day before the main event began in Flushing Meadows, Queens, world No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark was in New Haven capturing her third title of the summer. Early in August she won the Canadian Open in Montreal, besting two Grand Slam champions enroute to thumping Vera Zvonareva in the final. A few weeks before that, Wozniacki took the Copenhagen title.
The main thing lacking on her resume these days is a slam. The Dane came close last year but succumbed to Belgian Kim Clijsters, fresh out of retirement. But her chances to make a breakthrough this year just got a whole lot better this afternoon.
In the highly anticipated fourth-round match, Wozniacki blasted former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova out of contention. Sharapova made 36 unforced errors and notched nine double-faults in the hour and 53 minutes it took the 20-year-old Dane to run the 2006 US Open champ off the court, 6-3, 6-4. But to simply look at the stats, in this case, is misleading. Sharapova by no means gave it away.
“I felt like I was playing good tennis,” said Wozniacki. “I felt I was playing well out there. I made her do those errors, and I'm really happy to be through and that I won this match.”
Indeed. Sharapova played well, but happened to run into a gifted defender. While Sharapova shrieked, Wozniacki scrambled. And just when Sharapova put herself in a position to wreak havoc, Caroline stepped up her own offense. At times, Wozniacki appeared to be moving her feet twice as fast as the Russian.
“She's retrieving a lot of balls,” said Sharapova of her opponent. “You know, she served really well today. She used the wind really effectively, especially when she was playing against the wind. She was able to use many things to her advantage. I wasn't able to capitalize.”
At this point, what Wozniacki seems to do well is serve at a high percentage and respond effectively to the attack of her opponent. She can adjust the speed of her game, almost to the millimeter. She does all this without appearing to be a classic counter-puncher. She forces errors and hits winners when she needs to dig a bit deeper. And she’s gaining strength. This is not the Wozniacki of yesteryear.
“I definitely think I've improved a lot,” said Wozniacki, “not only physically, but also I believe in myself more. I believe I can do it. Also I think I can mix up my game a little bit more than I could last year.”
It’s also important to point out that while Sharapova is certainly disheartened by the loss, she’s by no means shattered.
“Obviously, losing a match, 30 minutes later, you're not the happiest person in the world,” she said in her post-match interview. “But at the end of the day, I'm sure you've heard it many times, but it's a tennis match. You've just got to look back at the match and what you should have done differently, what you need to work on.”
Off the court, one could be excused for thinking Wozniacki is trying to catch some of Sharapova’s commercial thunder. That will be a bigger mountain to climb.
“I'm so lucky that I am the face of Adidas and Stella McCartney and I have my own special line that no one else is wearing,” Wozniacki said about her endorsements. “I think that's really nice.”
As for those who think her dress is too short, Wozniacki dismisses the critique. “For me, it's important to feel good on court and of course to look good,” she said. “Then I can focus on my tennis 100 percent. I definitely am sure I'll get a lot of male fans now.”
Up next, Wozniacki will play Dominika Cibulkova in the quarters. Cibulkova beat the No. 11 seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova, in straight sets first thing in the morning.
Also upset today was Yanina Wickmayer by Kaia Kanepi—slayer of No. 4 seed Jelena Jankovic—while No. 7 seed Vera Zvonareva withstood German Andrea Petkovic in her round-of-16 match. The Russian dropped only three games in the 1 hour 7 minute contest.