MELBOURNE, January 24, 2020 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
Friday was the day when seeds and better-expected players tumbled left, right and centre out of the singles draws of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park. Yet, emerging from these losses were reasons about what made tennis – especially at the Majors – so special.
Close friends stick together
Almost within an hour of each other, Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams exited the tournament instead of facing each other in the fourth round as projected.
On the Melbourne Arena, Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur brought down an end to Wozniacki’s career on the pro tour with a 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 win in two hours and seven minutes. The Dane received an outpouring of congratulatory messages from her fellow pros, including Jabeur who went on to call her an inspiration.
Meanwhile, speaking about the result, the 2018 Australian Open champion joked amid tears in her on-court interaction before her felicitation, “I think it’s only fitting that my career finished with a three setter, a grinder, and that my career would finish on a forehand error. Those are the things I’ve been working on my whole career.”
Wow what a ride it’s been! From a little girl with a big dream, to this moment, standing on the court today living out my tennis dream one last time, in front of the world. It has been everything I could ever have hoped for!
The farewell I got today was absolutely incredible!❤️ pic.twitter.com/90xK8osaCh
— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) January 24, 2020
Jabeur’s career, too, will never be the same. The 25-year-old became the first Arab woman to reach the round-of-16 at a Major. Her reward will be a meeting against the 27th seed, China’s Qiang Wang who took down the haphazard-looking Williams in their round-of-32 match.
Wang had lost badly – 6-1, 6-0 – to the 23-time Grand Slam champion in the quarter-finals of the 2019 US Open. This time though, she was on-point and claimed a 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 win in two hours and 41 minutes. This result brought the first of the many rumbles of the day.
The seven-time Australian Open champion was not too happy with the result and as always, was harsh on herself for committing too many errors. “She served well. I didn’t return like Serena,” she said in her press conference.
“If we were just honest with ourselves, it’s all on my shoulders. I lost that match. So, it is what it is … it’s not about the tournament, it’s just like I can’t play like that. Like, I literally can’t do that again. That’s unprofessional. It’s not cool. I’m definitely going to be training tomorrow. That’s first and foremost, to make sure I don’t do this again.”
The talk around Wang’s win was just as introspective with the focus directed towards her former coach, former Australian player Peter McNamara who passed last year in July. McNamara had been coaching Wang since 2015 and the warm camaraderie they shared is well-known.
In her press conference, Wang poignantly noted, “I always dream about him. I think he can see what I play today. He will [be] proud of me. I really hope he can be here watch I play. Yes, I miss him.”
The World No. 29, too, is making her maiden appearance in the fourth round at Melbourne Park.
Ahead of their match, Coco Gauff displayed poise and confidence while speaking about facing defending champion and third seed Naomi Osaka. On Friday, the 15-year-old American made good on her words as she completed a 6-3, 6-4 win over the Japanese in an hour and seven minutes.
Unlike their first meeting at Flushing Meadows in 2019 – again, in the third round – Osaka’s serve and relentless power did not faze Gauff, who amped up power on her own game to put her opponent on the backfoot. The victory meant Gauff has now reached the second week of two majors – 2019 Wimbledon and now, here. The youngster was a little stunned herself and in her on-court interaction, joked, “Oh my god, I don’t even know (where that performance came from) … honestly like, what is my life? Two years ago, I lost first round in juniors. And now I’m here. This is crazy. Oh my gosh, I’m on Rod Laver Arena, like, I can’t believe this.”
Gauff will take on 14th seed Sofia Kenin in the fourth round. The American defeated Shuai Zhang 7-5, 7-6(7) in their third-round match.