Caroline Wozniacki, 29 and owner of one grand slam title in 15 years, is retiring. Her best friend, Serena Williams, 38 and owner of 23 majors across three decades, is not. What they had to say – to each other and for public consumption – after their almost simultaneous departure from the 2020 Australian Open, painted an indelible picture of a champion in decline.
The Dane does not need tennis anymore. The American still does. Desperately. Both are vulnerable, in contrasting ways.
They had been scripted to meet, play, smile and hug at the net after Williams politely progressed to victory in the fourth round this Sunday before going on to carve her way to the final, where she would lift her 24th slam trophy and take her place alongside Margaret Court, the Australian she respects but does not much like. That’s now a longer shot than it was. Williams has lost four slam finals since winning her 23rd, here three years ago.
Instead of dreaming, she and Wozniacki shared tears after losing in the third round on Friday – Williams to world No 29, Qiang Wang, who took one game off her six months ago at Flushing Meadows; Wozniacki to the artful but erratic Tunisian, Ons Jabeur, who put the British No 1, Johanna Konta, out of this tournament in the first round.
“She came into the locker room afterwards,” Williams said. “We were both kind of bummed about our matches. But it’s not the end of the world. Things go on. Well, I can play better; I don’t know if she’s going to play any better any more. It’s really fresh right now, her retirement.”