CHARLESTON, SC, USA - Caroline Wozniacki will depart from Charleston on a high note after an impressive run to the Volvo Car Open final - one of her best results on clay since 2011, the same year she won her previous title here.
Although she was outplayed by a rock-solid Madison Keys in the championship match, falling 7-6(5), 6-3 in a high quality encounter, there are plenty of positives for Wozniacki to take into the European clay season.
From a new face in the Wozniacki camp to her renewed love for clay, here are nine takeaways from the former Australian Open champion’s run at the Volvo Car Open.
1. She’s been working hard to stay healthy after a tough start to the season.
Last year after her WTA Finals title defense came to an end, Wozniacki revealed to reporters that she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joints.
The Dane started the 2019 season with question marks swirling around the topic of her health, but after a strong start in Australia it was viral illness that derailed her Indian Wells and Miami campaigns. Wozniacki told press in Charleston that she’s been putting in the hard work to get herself back into top shape.
“When you’re not feeling well, you cannot really be out there on court, and you haven’t practiced so the conditioning goes down,” Wozniacki told press. “It’s not a great combination for my game. I definitely need to be out there, I need to work hard and then the results came as a result of that.”
2. Listening to her body is the key to managing her rheumatoid arthritis.
Part of staying healthy for Wozniacki includes managing her rheumatoid arthritis. Wozniacki said that process has been about learning to listen to her body and advocate for herself on and off the court.
“I think I have a great team around me that knows that if I could, I would push through anything and I would by out there for 10 hours and working out,” she explained during All-Access Hour. “That’s what I’m kind of known for. But now I just really need to listen to my body and see how I feel.
“Some days I feel amazing and I can do whatever I want, and some days I just don’t feel great. And I’ll speak up and say, ‘Hey, let’s go easy today. Let’s just do tactical, technical things and not push too hard.’
“It’s just about finding that balance and knowing yourself and learning along the way.”
3. Wozniacki added a new name to her coaching team this week: Francesca Schiavone.
When Francesca Schiavone announced her retirement at last year’s US Open, the former French Open champion hinted at a possible return to the tennis courts as a coach. But it was still a surprise for tennis fans when the Italian appeared alongside the Wozniacki coaching team in Charleston.
According to Wozniacki, the pair crossed paths during the Miami Open and agreed to partner for the Volvo Car Open.
Wozniacki tells it like this: “So Francesca lives in Miami part-time, and I actually saw her right by where I live and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come to my practice? You know, give me a few tips on the clay.’ And she was like, sure I’d love to.
“And then we just had one practice, and I said, ‘So what are your plans next week?’ She was like, ‘I’m free if you need me’ so I said, “Why don’t you come to Charleston with me?”
“I think it’s great, she knows the clay so well, obviously it’s her favorite surface. For me, it’s just good to get a few pointers and a few tactical things, stuff like that. So here we are.”
4. Wozniacki turns to Schiavone for advice on ‘the little things’.
For Wozniacki, Schiavone’s experience on this surface has been the most valuable: the 2010 French Open champion and 2011 finalist brings the subtle details and words of advice that have led Wozniacki to her first clay final since 2017 Bastad.
“I think sometimes it’s just, she’s like, ‘Okay, well try this maybe.’ Or, ‘That can make a difference when you get a deep ball or a short ball’ or, ‘This is how you can cover the net maybe slightly better.’
“There’s a few things that I always want to do better, so those are just the kind of things, like the little things that can make a difference.”
5. Could Schiavone stay on Team Wozniacki after Charleston?
While she explained that their partnership is so far just for this week, Wozniacki has told press that she isn’t opposed to having Schiavone with her for the rest of the clay season.
“I think we’ll sit down after this tournament next week and just see how we feel,” Wozniacki said after the third round.
According to Wozniacki, Schiavone and her coach, dad Piotr Wozniacki, are actually the ones that have been teaming up this week to work out the strategies. “It’s important for me so that I don’t get too much information… so that I get one voice.”
So Wozniacki fans, stay tuned.
6. Wozniacki has been posting phenomenal numbers this week.
With or without Schiavone in her box, Wozniacki has been looking untouchable all week on clay.
According to SAP, Wozniacki has led the way in regards to returning statistics this week: ahead of the semifinals she topped the charts in the categories for both percentage of points won (54.7%) and games won (60%). She also dropped just one set all week en route to the final.
It’s a big boost for Wozniacki, who didn’t feature in the Top 10 of the 2019 Clay Court Power Rankings, coming in at No.18 on WTA Insider’s index.
7. She is slowly learning to love the clay again.
Wozniacki said that part of her success here has been due to returning to a positive approach to the clay season - a part of the calendar for which Wozniacki has never held much love.
“I think probably if you look back ten years ago, I was probably playing just as well on the clay that I do now,” she explained. “[But] if you look back five years ago, I would say I’ve stepped it up. I played much better.
“I grew up playing on clay outdoors, so I kind of knew what to do, and I think I just lost kind of that pattern a little bit once we started playing on hard courts so much. I think now I’m just starting to realize what I need to do, and I can’t always do it, but I at least have the right path and I can see what I need to work towards.
“And when I play that way, I win a lot of matches and I can play at a very high level on this surface.”
8. No one loves Charleston more than Wozniacki.
Wozniacki wasn’t able to claim her 20th match win in Charleston today, but she’s still departing South Carolina with a stellar record at the Volvo Car Open.
In fact, no player in this year’s draw has won more matches here than the Dane. Here’s how Wozniacki’s win-loss record and winning percentage now stacks up against the rest of the Charleston draw:
1. Caroline Wozniacki 19-5 (.791)
2. Madison Keys 16-6 (.727)
3. Andrea Petkovic 13-5 (.722)
4. Sabine Lisicki 13-6 (.684)
5. Sara Errani 11-7 (.611)
6. Kiki Bertens 10-3 (.769)
9. Charleston is the perfect bridge between the hardcourt and red clay seasons.
Many players have said this week that Charleston serves a perfect segue into the European red clay.
The green Har-Tru clay courts play faster than red clay, but slower than hardcourts, and players are able to practice their sliding: green clay slides less than red clay, but much more than hardcourts.
“I think it’s a great start for me for the clay season because we go from hard court to a little bit of an easier clay transition,” Wozniacki said. “With the green clay, it’s a little bit less slippery. It’s a little faster. So I enjoy this surface a lot. And then, yeah, from here to move on to the red clay, it’s much easier.
“It’s a tournament that I always enjoy. I think the food is great, the fans are great. It’s just a tournament where everyone feels at home, and I think that makes a big difference.”