Friday 22 September 2017

Caroline Wozniacki defiant in defeat as she admits 'shock' of break-up

Caroline Wozniacki exited the French Open at the first round yesterday, but the defeat will allow her to step out of the spotlight after what has been a difficult week. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Caroline Wozniacki exited the French Open at the first round yesterday, but the defeat will allow her to step out of the spotlight after what has been a difficult week. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Simon Briggs

Whether reacting to victory, defeat or controversy, Caroline Wozniacki has always been a self-possessed and courteous young woman – friendly and welcoming, and completely lacking in the sort of ego or side that you expect from a top athlete.

So, it was entirely in character that Wozniacki should have been so dignified here yesterday, when she had to face the media for the first time since her high-profile break-up with Rory McIlroy.

She opened the press conference with a statement asking the assembled reporters to respect her privacy. Thereafter, most of the conversation revolved around her first-round match – which she lost 7-6 4-6 6-2 to Yanina Wickmayer – although Wozniacki also alluded a few times to the "shock" of last week's events.

"The only thing I really have to say is that to thank everybody for their support and sweet messages," she said. "That's really nice. What happens in my personal life, I just want to really keep that between my closest people around me. I just have to move on."

Asked how difficult it had been to get herself ready for a major tournament, she acknowledged that the split had affected her build-up. But it was not the only thing on her mind: from a tennis standpoint, her physical state has been almost as much of an issue this week as her emotional one.

"You're not prepared for something like this," she said, in reference to the end of her relationship, "and it came as a bit of a shock. I just tried to prepare the best that I could, and really tried to focus on my match and on what I had to do out there.

"It doesn't make it easier that I haven't been able to play really that many matches because I have been injured. I felt a little bit rusty, and it wasn't really a pretty match. But I tried.

"I guess I'm getting old," added Wozniacki, who is only 23, but has been playing professionally for the best part of nine years. "It's like a car that is 10 years old, all of sudden it starts breaking down, it was great at the beginning and now it needs a service more often."

Roland Garros was wintry yesterday as Wozniacki walked out on Court Two. The first thing the crowd noticed was her outfit: a green skirt combined with a white-and-orange top – the colours of the Irish flag.

Her opponent, Wickmayer, has stood as high as No 12 in the world. The Belgian strikes a heavy ball, and tended to be the one dictating the points. Wozniacki's game is so reliant on her movement but she found it difficult to perform her usual miracles of retrieval.

"Playing Caroline is never easy," said Wickmayer afterwards, "because she bounces back many balls." Asked whether she had any special message to send to her opponent, she replied: "We all have our personal issues. Everybody is aware of it because they're a famous couple, but there are other players who have very personal problems. We all live difficult times with the boyfriend or when somebody dies.

"I think she's strong. She's going to recover. She's been through a lot. She was No 1 for a while, so I think she'll get over it."

Can sporting success really insulate you against private upheaval? The case is arguable, and yet there's no doubt that Wozniacki is a particularly robust character.

During her spell on top of the rankings – which lasted throughout the 2011 season – she had to put up with constant grumbling that she was not an authentic world No 1 because she had never won a slam. And yet, where others would have turned surly, she never lost her enthusiasm or her smile.

Things will no doubt get better for this indomitable woman. Yet one suspects that her disappointment at yesterday's result may be balanced by a touch of relief at stepping out of the spotlight for a few days.

FRENCH OPEN, LIVE, SETANTA, EUROSPORT, ITV3/4, 9.30

Irish Independent

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