TORONTO — As well as she’s been playing this year, Caroline Wozniacki didn’t expect much out of herself in Toronto.
You can’t really blame the former World No. 1, either: In a more than decade-long pro career that’s seen her rack up more than 550 wins on the WTA circuit, she’d never won an opening-round match in this city.
Well, all that changed this week. And on Saturday afternoon, Wozniacki won her fourth straight match in Toronto to earn a berth in Sunday’s Rogers Cup final, with a straight-sets victory over American Sloane Stephens.
It marks her sixth trip to a WTA final this season, and Wozniacki will be looking for her first win of 2017, her second Rogers Cup title (she won in Montreal, in 2010) and the 26th win of her career.
It’s safe to say this is the most fun Wozniacki has ever had in this city. As she put it: “It’s always more fun when you’re winning.”
One day after she knocked off the current world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, the 27-year-old from Denmark beat Stephens 6-2, 6-3 at the Aviva Centre on a sunny afternoon, with just a brief rain delay in the final minutes of the match.
“I think I was moving very well and retrieving and just trying to stay aggressive when I could,” Wozniacki said. “But it was a difficult match and I think it was closer than what the score line showed.”
It was. Stephens, who’s playing in just her third singles WTA tournament since being off for nearly a year due to injury, displayed the hard-hitting and aggressive style she’s known for, and when she was on, she nailed corners with winners, hitting 22 in all. But she also had 41 unforced errors, which was the difference.
Overall, the former world No. 11—Stephens is now ranked 934th in the world, and climbing back up—was happy with her play here. These mark her first wins of the WTA season in singles, including a victory over world No. 3 Angelique Kerber, in the quarter-final.
“I didn’t think I would have good results like this and beat good players this soon, because I thought it would take me a lot longer to work my way into playing top players again,” Stephens said. “I did the best I could today and, unfortunately, I came up a little bit short. But super proud of my week and just glad to be competing at a high level again.”
Once again, it was Wozniacki using her defensive skills to run down balls and fire nearly everything back to her opponent. Despite playing a 3-set marathon a day earlier that lasted nearly three hours, Wozniacki moved incredibly well, forcing Stephens to make mistakes.
Stephens made plenty of them, too. The 24-year-old fired a few groundstrokes way long, and missed one second serve by more than a foot.
The reason the No. 6-ranked Wozniacki had success against Stephens where others didn’t was because she forced long rallies and made few errors, waiting for Stephens to flinch first.
Wozniacki also broke Stephens six times, including in Stephens’ first service game. She had a 5-1 lead in the first set, and needed just 30 minutes to win it, and an hour and 24 minutes to take the match.
Wozniacki broke Stephens for the last time to go up 5-2 in the second set, and that’s when the rain came. Though the delay lasted fewer than 10 minutes, Wozniacki was keen to get back out there.
“Once you’ve broken you’re kind of like, let’s just get this done,” she said. “But I thought I served pretty well and managed to finish off in a good way.”
After serving up an ace on match point—her fourth of the afternoon—Wozniacki pumped her fist, grinned, and fired a ball into the crowd before shaking hands with Stephens.
Sunday, she’ll be back in a final for the sixth time this season, and she’ll play the winner of the other semifinal, between world No. 5 Elina Svitolina or No. 2 Simona Halep.
Wozniacki says she won’t be changing her approach ahead of this final, that she’ll do the same things she’s done in the lead-up to all five finals she’s played in this year. That means eating good food and relaxing at her hotel (watching Game of Thrones.)
Asked if the fact she’s winless in finals this year has been weighing on her mind, Wozniacki grinned and said, “No, not unless I get asked about it.”
On Sunday, we’ll see if the sixth time’s the charm.
Whatever happens, just getting to play on championship Sunday in Toronto is a position Wozniacki didn’t anticipate she’d be in.
“With a record like I had here in the past,” she said, “I wasn’t really expecting too much of myself.”