After an evening of exemplary consistency, discipline and grit, Caroline Wozniacki arrived at match point against her old rival Petra Kvitová, so close to the first big win of her return. But Wozniacki was not quite ready for her moment. On her second match point, Wozniacki looked incredibly nervous as she netted a poor backhand return and Kvitová quickly slammed the door shut on her service game.
For many other players, such a missed opportunity could have proved fatal. But the former No 1 has built an excellent career through her supreme mental strength, and she demonstrated that on Arthur Ashe Stadium once again. Wozniacki shrugged off her disappointment, offered few errors, and remained laser-focused on her goal as she clinched an enormous win by edging past Kvitová 7-5, 7-6 (5) to reach the third round of the US Open.
“It feels amazing to beat such an amazing player and champion like Petra,” Wozniacki said. “Obviously I knew coming into the match that I had a chance to win, and I believe in myself. At the same time she obviously has had a great year. She’s 11 in the world, loves to play on hard courts.
“I knew it was going to be a very tough one and I had to play my best tennis. I’m just so thrilled to have an opportunity to play out on Arthur Ashe Stadium. What an honour that is, play a night session in front of this amazing crowd.”
Her win over Kvitová, the 11th seed, also marks the first time that Wozniacki has won consecutive matches since she played her first match back from retirement in Montreal earlier this month. She won her opening match there against Kimberly Birrell of Australia before losing to Marketa Vondrousova, and then performed poorly at the Cinncinnati Open where she was brushed aside by Varvara Gracheva. She arrived in New York desperate to find her feet again.
While Wozniacki clinched her long-awaited grand slam title at the Australian Open, New York has always been her place. It was the site of the Dane’s first grand slam final in 2009, her second in 2014 and of a rousing run to the semi-finals in 2016 while ranked No 74 after a year ravaged by injuries and poor form. It was also the city where she successfully ran her first marathon in 2014 after that final and a gruelling 11-month season. If there was any place that was likely to kickstart her comeback, it would be in New York.
“I’ve been feeling very comfortable here in New York in general,” she said. “Ever since I arrived here, it’s just something about the courts, everything else, that have made me feel good.”
In a match of great nostalgia between two of the defining champions of the previous generation, both 33 years old, Wozniacki produced a vintage, workmanlike performance. She was extremely consistent and gave little away, offering just 13 unforced errors and defending with immaculate depth, particularly off her backhand wing. She served increasingly well as the match endured, always an asset at the height of her powers, winning 83% of first serve points in the second set.
“It’s always tough to play Caro, even she didn’t play for a few years. Didn’t feel that she was away,” said Kvitová, who like many players in New York was under the weather as she took to the court.
In the decisive moments, Wozniacki dared Kvitová to consistently hit through her defence. There have been many times in their 14-year rivalry when Kvitová, conversely one of the great attacking players of their era, has been able to overpower Wozniacki, but this time she could not. As a lacklustre Kvitová’s unforced errors piled up, Wozniacki’s ice neutralised her fire.
“Three years ago if you’d asked me, I didn’t think I was ever going to play on one of those courts again in the US Open, especially a night session,” Wozniacki said. “It just feels pretty incredible to be out there and winning a match like that.”
In the third round, Wozniacki will face another player on the comeback trail in Jennifer Brady of the US. Brady reached the semi-finals of the US Open in 2020 and the final of the 2021 Australian Open before a number of injuries forced her out of action for two years until this summer. On Thursday night, Brady also won consecutive matches for the first time at WTA level in her return, defeating 24th seed Magda Linette 6-1, 2-6, 6-2 to advance to a third round match that will almost certainly take centre stage again.