This was a first-round match so important for Caroline Wozniacki that it kept her boyfriend, Rory McIlroy, awake at night.
The former No. 1-ranked Wozniacki came back from 3-0 down in the final set to win the last six games of the match against big-hitting German Sabine Lisicki 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Tuesday at the Australian Open.
McIlroy got up at 3 a.m. to watch from Abu Dhabi, where he’s preparing to play in this weekend’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships. He was coming off a busy day himself after the announcement of his lucrative multi-year contract with Nike.
Of course, the multimillion dollar golf contract became a topic of conversation.
”It wasn’t really a big surprise to me. I kind of knew,” she said to laughter in the interview room. ”I felt bad for him because I think he went to bed at midnight their time and woke up at 3 and watched me and then back to sleep for a couple of hours. That’s a true fan.”
And perhaps it was just the win Wozniacki needed to battle her way back into the upper tier of women’s tennis.
”Today, I had to get my fighting spirit up and fight back,” she said, ”and it paid off.”
Wozniacki had been on a serious slide after losing the No. 1 ranking she had held for two years with a loss in the quarterfinals at Melbourne Park last January. She lost in the third round at the French Open and then the first round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, briefly falling out of the top 10 before finishing the year at No. 10.
But Wozniacki was the far steadier player Tuesday, patiently moving Lisicki around the court and playing superb defense to extend rallies and wait for Lisicki to make an error. The German made a lot of those – 57 to just eight for Wozniacki.
Lisicki was probably the most dangerous unseeded player in the draw. Currently ranked 36th, the German was a 2011 Wimbledon semifinalist and reached the quarters at Wimbledon last year. She has been ranked as high as No. 12.
IRON WOMAN: Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova isn’t used to sitting on the sidelines.
Kuznetsova, winner of the 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open, saw her streak of 40 straight Grand Slam appearances broken late last year when a right knee injury forced her out of the U.S. Open. She had appeared in the main draw at every Grand Slam dating to the 2002 U.S. Open.
The Russian, who missed six months because of the injury, said after her first-round victory over Lourdes Dominguez Lino at the Australian Open that the extended break might have done her some good. She was feeling some burnout after playing for 12 straight years without taking any time off.
”It was new for me because I never stopped,” she said. ”I never stopped for a long time. I played 40 slams, I never missed one.”
”It was a little strange for me,” she added of the enforced break, ”but I think it was useful for my head.”
Kuznetsova’s ranking has dipped to 75th, but she has beaten two top 20 players at lead up tournaments since her return at the beginning of this season – No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 18 Julia Georges.
Her section of the draw has opened up in Melbourne, too, with seventh-seeded Sara Errani’s loss on Tuesday. But Kuznetsova isn’t looking beyond her next match against the 26th-seeded Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan.
”The first matches (back) were really complicated for me,” she said. ”Your mind is a little afraid, your legs cannot go.”
VIKA AND SERENA: Top-seeded Victoria Azarenka got some sympathy from her biggest rival, Serena Williams, after a bad pedicure forced her to withdraw before their scheduled semifinal at a tuneup tournament in Brisbane two weeks ago.
The Belarusian underwent a minor surgical procedure to remove part of her toenail after a pedicure caused an infection in her right big toe.
”I was talking to Serena that day,” Azarenka said after her first-round Australian Open win over Romanian Monica Niculescu. ”She had the same thing happen to her before. I now understand what it is, and I’m going to be really careful next time.”
Azarenka didn’t have much sympathy for Williams, however, when told after her match that the 15-time major winner had fallen and twisted her ankle during her 6-0, 6-0 drubbing of Romanian Edina Gallovits-Hall.
”I heard she won love and love, so what kind of injury are we talking about?” she said, in jest.
Azarenka may be the defending champion, but Williams is considered by many to be the tournament favorite. Top-ranked Azarenka said she wasn’t even recognized by an Australian Open security guard when she tried to enter the facility one day, until she pointed to her champion’s portrait on the wall.
”I was walking, and he’s like, `You got your pass?’ There was my picture (on the wall). I said, `There is my pass. There it is,”’ she said, laughing.