Marathoner Wozniacki handles hardships better than No. 1 Pliskova

Caroline Wozniacki beat number-one ranked Karolina Pliskova to move on to the semi-final at the Rogers Cup.

TORONTO — Seconds after Caroline Wozniacki endured a marathon to knock off the world No. 1, the 27-year-old from Denmark smiled and pointed out that she’d actually run a marathon before.

The race took her a half hour longer than this tennis marathon, too. And, as she later pointed out, her win to advance to the semifinal of the Rogers Cup in Toronto “was definitely a little easier” than that run.

Well, that aside, this tennis version was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. Wozniacki’s win over Karolina Pliskova on Friday afternoon wasn’t only a marathon. It featured a comeback. A tiebreaker. Momentum shifts. Four rain delays. Stops. Starts. But at the end—after two hours and 56 minutes—it was the former world No. 1, not the current, who got one step closer to the title.

Wozniacki defeated Pliskova 7-5, 6-7, 6-4 at the Aviva Centre, but it really didn’t look like it was going to be a barnburner from the start. It didn’t look like it was going to go Wozniacki’s way, either.

It was all Pliskova early on. The 25-year-old got out to a 3-0 lead, and was up a comfortable 5-1 in the first set. But after four rain delays, the sun started shining here on centre court, and so did Wozniacki.

She rattled off wins in six straight games to take that first set, ending it with one of eight aces she fired in the match.

Just how did she complete that comeback? “It was really crazy,” she told Sportsnet’s Jackie Redmond, on court after the match, with a huge grin. “I’m not even sure.”

After that first set, the woman who was ranked No. 1 in the world back in 2010 pumped her fist and walked to her chair. On the other side of the net, Pliskova drilled her racket into the ground and watched it bounce.

But Pliskova, who’s won three WTA titles this year, got momentum back in the second set. Both women stayed on serve, and in the tiebreaker, it was Pliskova pumping her fist at the end, and shouting, when Wozniacki sent a forehand into the net.

The third set easily could have gone Pliskova’s way—“I also think I could have won,” she said, unsmiling, later—after she broke Wozniacki, and found herself up 4-2.

But just as she did in the first set, Wozniacki went on another run. She answered back with a break of her own and won the last four games to take the set and match.

When the world No. 1 fired a forehand into the net on match point, Wozniacki yelled, she pumped her fist, and she grinned. It’s her second win over Pliskova this year.

It came because Wozniacki wore Pliskova down. She showed some great speed, getting to seemingly unreachable groundstrokes in both corners, and her backhand—her best shot—was incredibly effective.

“She just put everything back, even my serves, even some of the ground strokes,” Pliskova said. “I think it’s tough to play someone like that.”

Wozniacki also rattled off 29 winners and hit 72 per cent of her first serves. But the story of the match was in the unforced errors—Pliskova had 44, compared to 25 for Wozniacki.

“[I] was trying to go for my shots, but my legs were not moving that good, so that’s why I did the mistakes,” Pliskova said, pointing out she was rattled by the many rain delays.

Wozniacki, meanwhile, has played in more than a few rain-delayed matches this season. And overall, it’s been quite a year for her. After dropping to 74th in the world last year and battling injuries, she’s now back up to No. 6 in the rankings. She says she’s enjoying playing more, and listening to her body instead of working out the way she did at age 18.

She’s won a lot this year—42 times, compared to 15 losses—but she’s yet to win a tournament. A five-time finalist this season, Wozniacki is looking for career win No. 26.

It would be quite something if she could get it done in Toronto. Though she won the Rogers Cup back in 2010, that was in Montreal, and she hadn’t had much luck in this city. That’s why she decided to change things up this year: She didn’t get a driver this time around. She’s staying in a different hotel. She’s even eating different food.

“And maybe it isn’t the driver or the hotel or the food, but I’m winning. So I’m going to stick to this,” she said earlier this week.

Well, it seems to be working.

Though she’s not looking too far ahead, Wozniacki is one step closer to winning her second Rogers Cup. And though it’ll be tough, though it might take another marathon match like Friday’s, it’s likely it won’t be tougher than that marathon she actually ran, back in 2014, in an impressive three hours and 26 minutes.

“This is my job and this is what I do,” she said, grinning. “I kind of know what to expect.”