Caroline Wozniacki makes a winning comeback

A comfortable winner over Kimberly Birrell on her big return to competitive tennis, Caroline Wozniacki now faces Marketa Vondrousova in the second round in Montreal.

Caroline Wozniacki / Roland-Garros 2023©Pauline Ballet / FFT
 - Romain Vinot

At a time when a golden new generation are finally making their presence felt, a number of old faces are continuing to defy the passage of time, among them Gaël Monfils and Milos Raonic, who scored respective sparkling wins over Christopher Eubanks and Frances Tiafoe no less at the Canadian Open. Giving even greater cause for celebration is the return of a clutch of female players after starting families. While Elina Svitolina has led the way by reaching the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros and the semis at Wimbledon, Caroline Wozniacki is determined to follow suit, springing out of retirement in sensational style by winning her first match on her competitive comeback.

Excited to be back

Three and a half years after calling time on her career following a third-round defeat to Ons Jabeur at the 2020 Australian Open, Caroline Wozniacki ran out an emphatic 6-2 6-2 winner over Kimberly Birrell in one hour 37 minutes in the first round at the Canadian Open in Montreal, a WTA 1000 event. Now the proud mother of Olivia and James, the former world No.1 was understandably delighted to have made a successful return. “I’m happy and a little tired,” she said with a smile. “Just it was fun to be out there again playing on center court in front of a big crowd. I’m just thrilled that I could win my first match in three and a half years.”

A tournament winner here in 2010, Wozniacki made her baseline game count against the Australian qualifier, her aggressiveness yielding six breaks against the world No.115, who struggled with her serve, coughing up 10 double faults and winning only 46% of points on her first serve and 33% on her second. Aside from some towel issues – perhaps having forgotten that ball kids no longer carry them around for players – Wozniacki did not look like a player making her comeback.

Wise head

When the 2018 Australian Open champion announced her intention to return to action, it was hard to assess what kind of shape she and her game would be in. Though she excelled at recent Grand Slam legends events, that was no guarantee of success on what is an increasingly demanding WTA Tour.

Aware of that fact, she had this to say on Media Day in Montreal: “Realistically when you haven’t been on tour and haven’t played a match in so long, no matter how much you practice, how many practice sets you’ve done, you can never replicate being on a match court.I’ve got nothing to lose. I have already done so much in my career and basically ticked off most of the goals that I had set. But I’m here because I love to compete. I love the sport, and I feel like I still have a lot to give to the sport.”

Despite Tuesday’s win, that uncertainty remains: “I didn’t really know what to expect, to be honest. You have all these things in your head that this is how you’re supposed to be playing and you’re supposed to be doing this and that, but to be honest, I had no idea what I was going to come up with when I was out on court because I just haven’t played a real match in so long.

“It was all about not getting down on myself if I made a mistake and not get too excited when I hit a good shot. So it was just kind of evening out those emotions. I think everything taken into consideration, I’m very happy with how I played today and how I got through.”

Special support

With her family’s love behind her, Wozniacki is happy with her decision and hopeful that her new adventure will be a beautiful one. “I think for me it’s so special having my family here,” she said. “As a 33-year-old that has played on tour for many years, and doing it with my kids that now, especially the older one is starting to really understand and gets to really experience the world and different countries, I think it’s so cool.”

The Odense-player can expect an altogether stiffer test in the second round in Montreal, where newly crowned Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova awaits. A Grand Slam champion herself, Wozniacki is rightly wary. “Marketa has obviously been on fire,” she said. “Played incredibly well at Wimbledon. Got out of some tough situations there along the way, but then really kept her nerves cool in the finals.”

“Obviously a tough opponent, a lefty. That’s never easy to play a lefty with the ball going the other way. But you know what, I have nothing to lose. I’m going to go out there and have fun regardless and see what happens.”

Whatever happens in the second round, the Dane is entitled to be pleased with her comeback so far. It remains to be seen if she can take it to a different level ahead of the US Open, a tournament she has had her eye on for the last few weeks.