MELBOURNE, Australia — On the eve of the Australian Open, Caroline Wozniacki sat in a small room in the media center at Melbourne Park, answering questions with a sunny disposition and as much patience as when she first broke through as a precocious teenager more than a decade ago.
But since she first secured the No. 1 ranking in 2010, the thorny question has remained of why, despite all her success, has she never managed to win a Grand Slam title.
She has come close twice, reaching the final at two US Opens, in 2009 and 2014. She owns 27 WTA titles and has collected more than $26 million in prize money. And yet, the conventional wisdom is that she lacks the firepower to win seven rounds of fierce tennis.
But this year, there is something different about Wozniacki. Seventeen months after slipping to as low as No. 74 in the rankings, in part because of a number of niggling injuries, she arrived in Melbourne as the world No. 2, buoyed by her victory in the season-ending WTA Finals last November. Her belief was back.
That belief has taken her to her first Australian Open final, where Simona Halep awaits Saturday. Not only will the Aussie Open title be on the line, but the No. 1 ranking as well.
A couple of years before he finally broke through, Andy Murray said that if he never won a Grand Slam title in his career, it would be because he wasn’t good enough, not because he didn’t work hard enough or try everything to win one.
Once he accepted he might never win one — after losing to Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final — the pressure mitigated, and the results showed. Between that period and the summer of 2016, Murray won two Olympic gold medals, one US Open title and two Wimbledon championships.
Halep: Wozniacki will be a difficult opponent
Simona Halep says Caroline Wozniacki will be a tough opponent to face as both chase their dreams of winning their first Grand Slam.
Wozniacki can relate.
“It’s exactly the same way I feel,” Wozniacki told ESPN.com. “I think if you start thinking about what other people think, it’s never going to be enough. As an athlete, you always want more, no matter what it is — if you win one Slam, you want two. There’s always more. If you’ve been No. 1 for a certain amount of time, you want it longer.
“At the end of the day, sometimes you have to be nice to yourself and just go, ‘You know what, this is a day-by-day process. As long as you put the effort in, that’s all you can do.’ ”
Always a tenacious battler on the court with a brilliant backhand, Wozniacki has heard all the criticism. Some say her serve is not up to snuff, while other pundits have scrutinized a forehand that is “technically flawed.”
Still, the stats at this year’s Aussie show that Wozniacki is tied for third in aces and is in the top five in service games won. Her forehand isn’t just a weapon; she has committed just 6 percent of unforced errors from that wing. As Wozniacki showed when saving two match points and coming back from 5-1, 40-15 down in the third set against Jana Fett in the second round, she is still a phenomenal athlete and perhaps an even better competitor.
“I think I’ve added a few things to my game,” Wozniacki said after her semifinal. “I think at the same time, I’ve kept the base of my game that I’ve been so successful with.”
Her confidence has perhaps never been higher, and six years after she last held the No. 1 ranking, she will regain the top spot if she beats Halep.
“I think it’s very special to be No. 1, but I guess it can be more special [to get it back],” Wozniacki said. “Nobody has ever had such long stints in between. Definitely I think it’s harder, because the first time I was very young, and everything went so fast, and people are still getting used to my game. Now everyone knows me. Everyone knows everything about my game. I definitely think it’s harder second time around.”
With Halep also chasing her first Grand Slam title, there will be pressure on both and, for one, disappointment. Wozniacki leads their head-to-head record 4-2, which includes a lopsided win against Halep two months ago in the WTA Finals.
Wozniacki says she will try to have fun and enjoy the moment.
“You live and you learn, and you try again,” she said. “They knock you down, you come back up. Hopefully I can change that on Saturday.”