Caroline Wozniacki knew she couldn’t start slowly against Serena Williams.
Knowing is one thing. Accomplishing that in a Grand Slam final against the world’s No. 1 player is another.
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”When you walk into the stadium and people are screaming so loud you can’t hear what you’re thinking yourself, it’s kind of overwhelming,” Wozniacki said.
By the time she finally held serve Sunday at the U.S. Open, Wozniacki was already a game from dropping the first set. In the second, she looked more like the player who upset Maria Sharapova, but by then Williams looked like the 18-time major champion she now is. The final score was 6-3, 6-3, in just 75 minutes.
”It was just a little too late for me,” Wozniacki said.
Williams played tight early on, but Wozniacki couldn’t take advantage because she did too. The 10th-seeded Dane double-faulted twice in her first service game. While Williams was spraying unforced errors all over the place, she can at least fall back on her power. Wozniacki doesn’t have that luxury. Her only winner of the opening set came on an ace.
”You’re kind of done,” she said.
Three points from defeat, Wozniacki played the sort of point that typically exasperates her opponents. For a 26-stroke rally, she ranged from sideline to sideline, getting back ball after ball that would have put away most other players. But Williams was relentless, crushing groundstrokes with precision until Wozniacki meekly hit a backhand into the net.
”Today, she was just too good,” Wozniacki said.
It was her pal Williams who helped Wozniacki get her mind off the breakup with star golfer Rory McIlroy in late May after the invitations to their wedding had already gone out. On Sunday, it was her opponent Williams who reminded that Wozniacki is a ways from that elusive first major title.
”Unfortunately, I was the one on the other side of the net today,” Wozniacki said.
She had reached her first major final at age 19 the 2009 U.S. Open, losing to Kim Clijsters, and ascended to No. 1 in the world the next year. But her defensive style wasn’t enough to win the sport’s biggest prizes.
She hadn’t been back to a Grand Slam title match until now. Hadn’t defeated an opponent ranked in the top 10 at a major tournament since the 2011 Australian Open until she upset the fifth-seeded Sharapova last weekend. She achieved that with some timely offense woven into her game.
”I feel like I’m on the right path,” she said.
Especially if she can keep the momentum rolling through the fall season, even as she trains to run November’s New York City Marathon for charity.
Wozniacki’s father and coach, Piotr, believes she has raised her play another notch the last several weeks.
”Caroline can see one more time: I am ready for big things,” he said. ”Caroline has time — 24 years old. I hope it’s coming one day.”
The next chance is January’s Australian Open. As Wozniacki stood holding the runner-up trophy, Williams turned to her and said: ”I know you’re going to be winning very, very soon, maybe even Australia.”