Friday 27 June 2014
Caroline Wozniacki needed to call on her wealth of experience as a former world No.1 and winner of 21 titles to repel the vigorous and highly promising challenge of Ana Konjuh, a 16-year-old from Croatia making her Wimbledon debut.
The score of 6-3, 6-0 was in no way a reflection on the battle Wozniacki faced to quell the teenager with a powerhouse game.
The Dane was required to raise her game several notches and this she did admirably in one hour 10 minutes to book a place in the fourth round.
The fact that Wozniacki had such a torrid time was partly due to the statistic that Konjuh already had five victories at this event to her credit, three in the qualifying tournament and two in the main draw, making her, as the youngest in this year’s draw, also the youngest to reach the third round at The Championships for nine years.
So the sturdy Croatian’s power game was already grooved on grass, as she rapidly demonstrated once the match got under way 36 minutes later than the scheduled hour on No.3 Court. This was partly due to light morning rain but also because when the players prepared to warm up there was no sign of the ball personnel. Urgent calls were made, the crowd began a slow handclap and five or six minutes later the ball boys – and one ball girl – arrived at the double, to cheers.
Konjuh’s power soon had the spectators gasping. Her forehand in particular is of howitzer quality, already one of the hardest in the women’s game, and even though the occasional wilder wallop threatened to land in the next parish, there were enough shots to the deepest corners to have Wozniacki scuttling, stretching and gasping.
Konjuh, a former world No.1 junior and 2013 junior champion at the Australian and US Opens, also possesses a finely disguised and admirably consistent drop shot, another potent weapon when your opponent is pinned deep behind the baseline.
Having lost at Wimbledon last year to the 196th-ranked Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic, Wozniacki was understandably anxious not to go out this time to someone who stands at 189 in the rankings. She needed some time to come to terms with what she was up against.
Twice in the first set Konjuh held break points, in the fifth and seventh games, but these were fought off and when the break finally came it was achieved by Wozniacki, courtesy of an overhit Croatian backhand. Even then, as she served out for the set, there was a twinge of alarm as Konjuh conjured another break point. But it was saved with a Danish ace and she was a set up after 44 minutes.
What followed was by no means a reflection on the Croatian’s play. Wozniacki broke, apologetically, in the opening game of the second set on a dead net cord and revved up her own game to the sort of level which saw her top of the rankings for 67 weeks. It was all too much for Konjuh but she will have learned much from this match and looks certain to join two other young Croatians, Ajla Tomljanovic and Donna Vekic, among the group of fast-rising girls threatening the established order.
Wozniacki paid full tribute to Konjuh. “She has a huge serve, 116 miles an hour a couple of times. At 16 I was struggling to get over 100 miles an hour on my serve. She has very powerful groundstrokes and a very good foundation in her game. She’s definitely someone to look out for.”
Having equalled her previous best Wimbledon by reaching the fourth round, Wozniacki was asked whether her good form was connected to the recent much-publicised break-up of her engagement to the golfer Rory McIlroy. “My private life has nothing to do with this,” she insisted. “But this year I’m feeling good, my game is in a good state. I’m in a good place in my head right now and I think that shows on court as well.”
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