The 29-year-old Dane bowed out with a 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 defeat by Ons Jabeur of Tunisia in the third round, a match that encapsulated much of what made Wozniacki such a star for almost a decade and a half on the WTA Tour.
“I think it was only fitting that my last match would be a three-setter — a grinder and that I would finish my career with a forehand error,” Wozniacki said, fighting back the tears as she took in the warm applause from the crowd inside Melbourne Arena.
“Those are things I’ve been working on my whole career, but I guess it was just meant to be. It’s been amazing, it was a great ride. I really am happy but I’m ready for the next chapter.”
Just as she did throughout her career, which began in 2005, Wozniacki battled for every ball, chased everything down and fought with all her heart to get the better of Jabeur.
When she came from 3-0 down in the final set to level at 3-3, it looked like her farewell tour might be extended at least another round, but Jabeur finally saw her off, a forehand over the baseline sealing Wozniacki’s fate.
Wozniacki stood in the center of the court watching a heartfelt video from fellow players, including Serena Williams, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka, an obvious mark of the impact she has had on the sport.
Wozniacki’s family were all there to see her final match, with her father, Piotr, who coached her throughout her career, coming onto the court and lifting her high into the air. Her mother, Anna, hugged her, as did her brother Patrik, who burst out crying.
Wozniacki won one Grand Slam title, at the Australian Open in 2018, 29 other titles worldwide and topped the world rankings on three separate occasions, finishing on top of the pile at the end of the year twice in a row. She won at least one tournament every year for 11 years.
But her achievements go beyond the results. Respected and admired by her rivals and loved by fans all over the globe, she maximized her potential and will be missed.
Caroline Wozniacki’s opponents, including Serena Williams, Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, share some of their favorite memories of Caroline Wozniacki after she played the last match of her career.
“She has a great legacy, Grand Slam champion, No. 1 in the world, one of the best players on tour — definitely not easy to do,” said Williams, a close friend of Wozniacki’s and one of many rivals to pay tribute this week to her achievements.
“Also, [she is] a person that’s really great off the court. So it’s going to be a great loss for women’s tennis, especially for me.”
There was a time when a Wozniacki news conference without a question about her lack of Grand Slam success was the exception rather than the norm. Her Australian Open victory over Halep in 2018, one of the best finals in recent memory, swept away any last doubts. But as she considered her career this week, Wozniacki said that winning a Grand Slam title was really the icing on the cake.
“It was definitely very, very special because I got to No. 1 very early in my career, and [though] I think I appreciated it and it was a dream come true, I didn’t appreciate it as much as the second time round [when she returned in 2018],” Wozniacki told ESPN.com in an interview.
“Do I think in other circumstances I could have won more? Probably, but at the end of the day, I think being No. 1 for such a long period of time [71 weeks] is probably much harder than winning one tournament, where you have a great couple of weeks. But having the combination of the two is something very few people have done, so that’s obviously something I’m very proud of.”
What she’s equally proud of is the way she went about things. It’s hard to think of a match in which Wozniacki didn’t give her all. She always was in shape, trained hard, worked hard and never arrived at a tournament underdone. Few people can say that.
“What I’m most proud of is the fact that I never slacked,” she said. “I would go into every single practice, I’d take it very seriously, I would work super hard. I would go into every tournament, try and do my best and try to win.
“I think I can be very proud of the fact that I’m looking back at my career and is there some things — I’d wish I’d had a gold medal at the Olympics, 100 percent — but … I literally gave everything I had, and I’m very proud of that.”
It has been 18 months since Wozniacki was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain throughout the body. It was a diagnosis that shocked her, but she is determined to show that it’s still possible to have a normal, active life.
“I want to be a role model. That’s something I’m very passionate about — also showing the way to other people who are struggling with RA, that you can do anything you put your mind to,” she said.
“For me to be able to have a full schedule, for me to be out there, every single day, working hard, working hours and hours on and off the court, that that’s possible with RA. That’s something that mentally I’ve had to, some days, push myself through.
“But at the same time, when I hear people and their stories, having issues getting out of bed, seeing me do what I do is motivating them and making them feel better. Having that community has been very special to me, and it’s something I want to continue doing. I hope I can inspire and help a lot of people.”
Wozniacki has found the week more emotional than she expected, partly because of the sheer number of people wishing her well, congratulating her on her career and telling her they’ll miss her.
“I think the special moments are where players who you don’t really think you’ve had that much of an impact on, come up and they [say], we really want to appreciate how nice you’ve been to us from the start,” she said. “So that’s been great to see as well. It makes me feel good that I’ve had a positive impact.”
When she came on the scene in 2005, “Danish tennis” was almost an oxymoron. Wozniacki leaves it in good health, with the junior world No. 1 male and last year’s junior world No. 1 female hailing from Denmark and with proof that you can make it if you try your best.
“I hope I’ve proven and shown for the younger generation that it’s possible to be from Denmark and be a great tennis player,” Wozniacki said.
“I would like to be remembered as a really hard-working tennis player who gave it my all, left my heart out there and hopefully a good person to be around, too. I think and I hope that people will have fond memories of me.”
At 29, she leaves the sport young. Wozniacki said she and her husband, former NBA player David Lee, are looking forward to some time away from the spotlight. She also said she has “always wanted to be a mom.”
And don’t hold your breath if you think she might be back on the court in the future.
“Well, I don’t want to be here in 10 years’ time, making a comeback, and then I’d hear all about it [saying she would never be back],” she said. “But I don’t think so. I think the chances are very slim.”