A good night’s sleep can make all the difference – but not today. Quite the reverse in fact.
Many bleary-eyed Danes would have woken up this morning, still deliriously happy after last night’s defeat of Norway in the handball, only to have the smile wiped off their faces by the news that the nation’s tennis darling, Caroline Wozniacki, is out of the Australian Open.
Last year, Woz conquered Oz to send the country into rapture, but this January the Danes will be relying on the men’s handballers to give them some January joy.
There’s no disputing the quality of the contests. For the men’s handball side, Norway provided the first real test of Denmark’s World Handball Championship title-winning credentials following four routine victories against three non-European sides and Austria. Their 30-26 win was hard-fought but well deserved, and their lead was never less than two after the first 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in Maria Sharapova, Wozniacki could not have faced a tougher opponent. When the Russian is in the zone, she is unstoppable, and she was at times unplayable in the first and third set. Having lost the opener 4-6, it is to Woz’s credit that she won the second 6-4 after surrendering a 3-0 lead. But she subsequently dropped the final set 3-6.
Draw gets easier
In the handball, Denmark march on as group winners into the second group phase, where they have avoided Germany, France, Croatia and Spain.
Victories against Hungary and Egypt – who have both only won two of their five games so far – on January 19 and 21 should confirm their qualifications for the semi-finals, with a game against Sweden on January 23 should they need it.
Currently 5/4 favourites to win the title, their most likely rivals are France (4/1), co-hosts Germany (9/2) and unbeaten Croatia (6/1), although their odds do reflect the difficulty they face in reaching the semis, which are both in Hamburg.
Should Denmark make it past that stage their reward will be a final in front of a home crowd at Jyske Bank Boxen in Herning.
To make the final, the Danes will rely heavily on star Mikkel Hansen continuing to deliver, as he did last night – his 14 goals was just one shy of tying the Danish record for most goals, a record currently held by … the coach Nikolaj Jacobsen. Check out one of Hansen’s goals in the video below.
There are no second chances for Wozniacki though. Her big chance came midway through the final set at deuce on the Russian’s serve when an average volley gave her the chance to pass, but she failed to capitalise.
Sharapova promptly held serve and proceeded to dominate, finally finding the measure of the Dane as she wrong-footed her on several occasions to break serve and close the match out comfortably.
Given that she was defending 2,000 ranking points, Woz faces a big slide down the list – possibly down seven places to number 10.