When Caroline Wozniacki concluded her 2014 season, fresh off a US Open final and tense three-set loss to close friend Serena Williams in the WTA Year End Championships, she chose to run the New York marathon.
Not a normal hunch for a tennis player. The season begins moments after the gunpowder settles on New Year’s Day, and runs through to the beginning of the northern winter.
In short, for 10 months of the year, the modus operandi is to slog until the body cries for respite and a two-month off-season.
Arguably, her ability to not only front up, but run 42.125 kilometres in three hours and 26 minutes, was one of the greatest encapsulations of the aerobic brilliance the Dane brought to tennis for over a decade.
And it was there, one final time on Melbourne Arena, as the 29-year-old battled to unpick the slice and dice game that’s proved prolific for Tunisian Ons Jabeur in her career-best tournament.
“I’m always that person that even when I’m down a lot, I’ve always believed that I can come back and win,” Wozniacki recounted.
“I don’t think it mattered for me so much what the score was. There was a couple of times where I was like, ‘Shoot, this could be my last one.’ It was just like, ‘I don’t want it to be the last one.’ I fought like my life depended on it.”
The one-time Australian Open champion chased down seemingly ungettable balls, made the trademark transition from defence to offence look seamless, and just fought, and fought, and fought.
She fought to recover a one-set deficit and take the match to a decider, fought to rescue a 3-0 disadvantage in the final set and push it to the brink.
She fought tirelessly, like she had her entire career, win or lose.
But her efforts were coincidentally scuppered by a woman representing a country that barely registered on tennis’ radar until her arrival, replicating Wozniacki’s — and Denmark’s — path since juniors in 2005.
That path was carved out of Odense from the age of seven under the coaching of Wozniacki senior Piotr, who along with her mother, brother and ex-NBA playing husband David Lee, joined her tearful on-court farewell.
The crowd heightened the melancholic mood, chiming in with a roaring version of Neil Diamond’s classic ‘Sweet Caroline’, a song ingrained into the Dane’s memory.
It was, in her words, “perfect.”
“I couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Wozniacki said.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 24, 2020
And seeing her family’s emotions amid these scenes rekindled memories of the many slogs that preceded this final hurrah.
“I had a dream when I was a kid. I wanted to win a Grand Slam. I wanted to be No. 1 in the world. People thought that I was crazy being from a small country. But I made it happen. I worked so hard for it every single day,” Wozniacki said.
For all the physical prowess she had, she had to work doubly hard when more exhausting battles arose off-court, and they were frequent.
Up until her 2018 Melbourne triumph — where she beat Simona Halep in one of the most thrilling finals of the last decade — Wozniacki was an expert dispatching daily questions over her credentials, because of the absence of grand slam crowns on her resume.
She already had dozens of titles under her belt, winning at least one every year for an 11-year stretch, but the media sharks craved blood.
There was the fallout with golfing ex-fiance Rory McIlroy in 2014, a rankings slide to a lowly 76 in 2016, and as of 18 months ago, her chronic battle with rheumatoid arthritis, for which she’s now a lifelong advocate.
The natural fighter instinct embedded in her blood won plaudits among her peers and helped her to 71 weeks at the helm of women’s tennis.
“You’ve been an incredible competitor, an incredible athlete over all of your time,” Australian Ash Barty said in tribute.
“It’s going to be really hard for me to not have Caroline on tour, she’s one of my best friends. I’m really happy for her and I know she’s doing what she wants to do,” Williams said.
So now, with the thrill of competition behind Wozniacki, what will she miss most?
“Winning a tight match, fighting from 1-5 down, coming back and winning, that adrenaline I think is going to be very hard to duplicate in anything else that I’ll do,” Wozniacki said.
“But, you know, we’ll see what life brings.”
Perhaps another marathon may be a stretch too far.