MELBOURNE, Australia - Caroline Wozniacki lost more than just her Australian Open quarterfinal match against Kim Clijsters. She's also guaranteed to lose the No. 1 ranking she's held for nearly 67 weeks.
Yet it may end up being something of a relief for the 21-year-old Dane, who has faced endless scrutiny since she rose to the top of the game in October 2010 without winning a Grand Slam title.
The questions about whether she deserves to be No. 1 will stop, but new questions about whether she'll ever get over the hump and capture that elusive first major will undoubtedly continue.
Other women have held the top ranking before winning a Grand Slam title, including Clijsters. Amelie Mauresmo spent time at No. 1 more than a year before she won the first of her two majors in 2006.
Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina have held the top spot without ever breaking through at a Grand Slam.
Safina made three major finals before back problems forced her to stop playing last year. Jankovic's best result was a runner-up finish at the 2008 U.S. Open; she's been past the fourth round only one time since.
Wozniacki, who has only reached one slam final at the U.S. Open in 2009, scoffs at suggestions that her window of opportunity is closing.
"The media talks to me like I'm finishing my career and I only have one year left and time is running out," she said after falling to Clijsters 6-3, 7-6 (4). "The fact is I still have quite a few good years in front of me. I still improve. I still have a number of Australians and a number of U.S. Opens and Wimbledons and French Opens left.
"I will definitely do my best and try to win one or even more," she added. "In the end of the day, you can just do your best. You can't do anything more than that."
Not having to defend her No. 1 ranking anymore may take some of the pressure off. Before losing to Wozniacki in the Round of 16 this week, Jankovic said she was glad she was no longer in that position.
"It's kind of nice to be a little bit away from that and just really focus on my tennis, on my game, and don't really have to answer those questions every day from you guys," she said.
Jankovic said she believes Wozniacki will win a major "sooner or later" and urged critics to ease off.
"I think you kind of give her a little, you know, hard time sometimes," she said. "I think sometimes you just should let it go."
Four-time Grand Slam winner Clijsters leapt to Wozniacki's defence after their match, as well.
"She's worked very hard to get to where she is, and she's one of the most consistent players," Clijsters said. "People are almost in a way almost blaming her for it. I think that's something that is really absurd."
Wozniacki's critics won't be able to focus on the No. 1 next to her name for very long. With her quarterfinal loss, she is assured of falling out of the top spot when the new rankings come out on Monday.
Three players are still in contention to supplant her: Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka (who is yet to win a Grand Slam title herself) and Maria Sharapova (who needs to make the final to have a shot).
For her part, Wozniacki said she's never been fixated on being No. 1. She didn't sound too upset about losing it, either.
"To be honest, I don't really think about it," she said. "I have been there for a long time already. I finished No. 1 two years in a row. In the end of the year we will see who played the best."
"I will get it back eventually, so I'm not worried," she added.
Clijsters thinkks it's only a matter of time before Wozniacki breaks through at a major.
"She's good enough," said Clijsters, who has beaten Wozniacki in all three of their meetings. "It's taken me a couple years; it's taken other people, you know, a while as well.
"So I think it's all a matter of experience and improving, definitely improving and trying to learn from losses and become better every Slam. Then she will definitely get there."