MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Caroline Wozniacki will, fittingly, take her final bow over the next fortnight at Melbourne Park, the scene of her only Grand Slam victory in a career that earned her praise for her tenacity and approachable character but also saw her acquire detractors.
The 29-year-old said last month that the Australian Open would be her final tournament, ending a 14-year professional career that delivered 30 singles titles, 71 weeks as the world number one and elevated Danish tennis to the global stage.
Wozniacki only revealed in late 2018 that she had been battling with rheumatoid arthritis, a painful autoimmune disease that affects the joints and produces fatigue, but made it clear last month that her illness had nothing to do with her decision.
Instead, she was keen to move on with her life after getting married to former basketball player David Lee, a two-time NBA All-Star, last June.
“In recent months, I’ve realised that there is a lot more in life that I’d like to accomplish off the court,” Wozniacki wrote on Instagram in making the announcement.
Injuries to her knees, ankles, back, calf and shoulder in recent years, however, may have made the decision to hang up her racket a little easier.
She also made just one final last year and dropped to 38th in the world, her lowest year-end ranking since 2007.
Coached by her father Piotr from age seven, she played her first WTA event just weeks after her 15th birthday, earning the first $1,260 of her $35.2 million in prize money in a first round loss to Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder in Cincinnati.
After bouncing between the WTA and lower level tours, she came of age in 2008 when she won her first senior titles and finished the year ranked 12th.
She made her first Grand Slam final in 2009, losing to Belgium’s Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open before she became the first Dane to reach the number one ranking in 2010.
That rise caused some controversy, with Wozniacki — like Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic before her — reaching the pinnacle of the rankings without having won a Grand Slam singles.
The ranking system itself was pilloried and she was criticized for playing too many tournaments that affected her play at Grand Slams, while her tenure also coincided with serious injuries to all-time great Serena Williams.
Wozniacki politely batted the criticism away, although her father was more pointed.
“Caroline is in tennis history,” Piotr Wozniacki told the New York Times in 2012. “It takes only one Grand Slam, and Caroline is a legend.”
Her 2018 victory on a sweltering Rod Laver Arena over Romania’s Simona Halep, another player to reach the top ranking before winning her first Grand Slam, should help in debates over her legacy.
It at least stopped the question she suspected she had been asked “100,000 times”.
“It’s really nice not to have to answer the ‘no Grand Slam’ question ever again,” she told reporters.
In three weeks, she will not need to answer any more tennis questions. At all.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Ian Chadband)