Lucky in love, unlucky in … tennis

It’s official: Wozzilroy’s killed Caroline’s career

It’s the story all good tabloid sports journalists dream of – and it’s been sitting under their noses for the best part of four months. And now, game, set and match, it’s finally official: Caroline Wozniacki’s relationship with Northern Irish golfer Rory McIlroy is seriously damaging the health of her tennis career.

Here’s the proof. In the period between 20 February 2011 and 18 July 2011 – the exact date Wozzilroy went public, her average result at the 13 tournaments she played in was a place in the semi-finals. Since then, she has played 18 tournaments and her average result has been a place in the fourth round.

Broken down, in the five months before the announcement, Woz won five tournaments, and lost in two finals, one semi, no quarters, the fourth round twice, the third round twice, and the second round once. In the eleven plus months since, she has won one tournament (the measly New Haven Open in late August), and lost one final, three semis, three quarters, the fourth round once, the third round three times, the second round four times, and the first round twice.

Sure, she’s also been preoccupied with releasing a cheesy music track and launching an underwear range, and there are many who will argue that she has previously benefited from entering tournaments with weak fields – but the proof has been staring the world in the face for some time now.

Still, even hacks have standards, and it wasn’t until her dramatic exit from Wimbledon against Austria’s Tamira Paszek on Wednesday that the dreaded question (now officially replacing “How does it feel being world number one without winning any grand slams?) came: “Do you think your relationship with Rory is affecting your tennis?”

“No,” was the swift reply, and she won admiration from those present for her decorum. 

On Wednesday, Wozniacki was unsure whether she would be at Royal Portrush on Thursday to support her boyfriend’s assault on the Irish Open, but later confirmed she would be there, in what would be a welcome distraction from could have been.

Because she actually played really well. The seventh seed had two match points in the second set, and led by a break in the third before losing 7-5 6-7 4-6 to an opponent who only last week won the grass-court AGEON International and last year made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon, an accomplishment that the Dane has never achieved despite winning the girls’ singles in 2006.

Indeed, Paszek hit the line in successive shots to save those match points, and former champion Lindsay Davenport , writing for BBC Sport, was amazed by her “fearlessness”.

A quick analysis of Davenport’s comments reveals where it went wrong for Wozniacki. “Wozniacki looks a different player, now she is moving her feet, cutting the angles off and taking balls earlier. That's what you need to do on grass," she wrote during the first set, perhaps in reference to her new coach, Sweden’s last grand slam winner Thomas Johansson, who was watching courtside next to her father.

But did the Dane stop following the game plan? “All of a sudden Wozniacki is retreating again with her court position and that is allowing Paszek to hit these winners," Davenport wrote during the second set.

But still, the acclaim was universal despite her defeat – a sentiment that was perhaps best summarised by the BBC live action coverage, which stated:It is perverse, but how much better a player could Wozniacki be if she spent her whole time losing?”

If there is another consolation, on top of the holiday, it is that multiple Wimbledon ladies champion Chris Evert has offered the Dane a shoulder to cry on.

“I’d love to talk to Caroline. But the younger players don’t really approach the older players for advice, and that’s too bad,” she told the London Evening Standard.

“You’re compromising because you’re in a relationship, and you want somebody to support you. When Rory goes to tennis tournaments, it is taking a little bit from his game, and vice-versa. When you are that young, your career is right at your fingertip. It’s a choice you have to make.”

Evert, however, doesn’t blame the relationship for Wozniacki’s slump. “When she racked up all those ranking points last year, Serena and Venus Williams were out of the game and Victoria Azarenka had not come on strong. There was an opening and Caroline was the most consistent player,” she said. “I don’t think Caroline’s tennis is slipping because she is in love.”

But, as the saying goes: lucky in love, unlucky in … tennis. Wozniacki herself, in her post-match interview, did appear to be bemoaning her lack of fortune.

“I had over two years where I was winning these matches, even when I wasn't playing great sometimes, but still winning and managing to pull it off," she said.

"Luck was still on my side.”

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