TORONTO: Caroline Wozniacki made some changes this week to try to change her fortune in a city that has not been kind on the tennis front. Personal driver? Not needed this time around. Same hotel as before? Switch that booking. Wozniacki is not only winning in Toronto for the first time in her career, she’s doing it against the world’s best.
The 27-year-old from Denmark outlasted top-ranked Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in a rain-delayed quarterfinal on Friday at the Rogers Cup. The match ended just over five hours after the players took to the court in the early afternoon for the pregame warmup. The start was delayed for more than two hours and three more weather interruptions followed in the first set alone.
Actual on-court match time was 2 hours, 56 minutes, but it felt much longer. “I just kept fighting and just kept doing my thing,” Wozniacki said. In the deciding set, Wozniacki broke at love to pull even at 4-4. She then held serve and followed with another break to lock up a spot in the final four.
Next up will be a Saturday showdown with American Sloane Stephens, who topped Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 before the rain returned in the evening. Two other quarterfinals were postponed until Saturday. Fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine will take on fourth-seeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, while defending champ and second seed Simona Halep of Romania is to play Caroline Garcia of France.
Pliskova, a 6-foot-1 25-year-old from the Czech Republic, was playing her first tournament as the world No. 1. “She just put everything back,” Pliskova said. “Even my serves, even some of the groundstrokes. So it was tough for me to close it and I think it’s tough to play someone like (that).”
Wozniacki had lost her opening matches in all four previous appearances on the WTA Tour’s Toronto stop. Montreal hosts the women’s Rogers Cup in alternate years and she has fared much better there, winning in 2010 and reaching the semifinals in 2012.
After dropping the first three games of the opening set Friday, Wozniacki fought back by beating Pliskova at her own game. She matched her powerful groundstrokes and started going for more winners to take the momentum. On her heels a bit more, Pliskova’s unforced errors started to rise. She smashed her racket into the court when another miscue gave Wozniacki a 6-5 edge.
Wozniacki used an ace to win her sixth straight game and the first set. “I just tried to stay steady,” she said. “(I) tried to take the ball on the rise and try to stay aggressive when I could and keep my serves aggressive too.” Both players held serve through the second set with Pliskova pulling even in the match by taking the last four points of the tiebreaker.
Pliskova used a strong backhand crosscourt to earn the first break of the third set. She pulled ahead 3-2 as Wozniacki was forced wide and netted her return. However, Wozniacki refused to buckle and breaks in two of the last three games gave her a semifinal berth and a 5-2 career head-to-head mark against Pliskova. “I think I was maybe a little bit less tired toward the end,” Wozniacki said. “I just kept hanging in there and I thought we both played a really good match.”
Wozniacki spent 67 weeks as the world’s top-ranked player in 2010 and 2011, but her ranking has slipped over the past two seasons due to injuries. She dropped to No. 74 last August but has returned to form of late. Wozniacki has reached five finals this season and currently holds the No. 6 position.
Since she returned from her injury layoff, Wozniacki said she’s been enjoying her time on court a little more and has toned down her workout regimen. “I’m not old but I’ve been on tour for many years,” she said. “(I’m) getting older and the body can’t handle the same as it used to when I was 18, 19. So I just had to really think of that.
“I had some time to just be home and enjoy spending some time with friends and family and then came back and was recharged.”
In early doubles play, top-seeded Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina beat Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine and American Nicole Melichar 6-4, 6-4. Second-seeded Yung-Jan Chan of Taiwan and Switzerland’s Martina Hingis dropped a 6-4, 6-4 decision to eighth-seeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic. – AP