By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A tearful but happy Caroline Wozniacki headed into retirement on Friday after a 7-5 3-6 7-5 third-round defeat at the hands of Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur ended her participation in the Australian Open and her 16-year career.
The 29-year-old said last year that Melbourne Park, where she won her lone Grand Slam title two years ago, would be the site of her final outing as a tennis professional.
Wozniacki, one of the most popular players on the women’s circuit, sat beside the court soaking up the atmosphere for a few moments before addressing a packed Melbourne Arena.
“I’d like to thank the fans, the support we feel on court is really amazing. Also the support I’ve had my from family, and especially my dad, who has coached me all those years,” she said, smiling through the tears.
“I usually don’t cry, sorry, those are the special moments I’ll remember. It’s been really amazing, a great ride. I really am happy, though, I’m ready for the next chapter.”
Wozniacki was renowned for having one of the best defenses in the women’s game but Jabeur ushered her out of the door with a barrage of 43 winners.
The Dane showed the fighting spirit of a champion to battle back from 3-0 down in the deciding set but Jabeur always looked to have the measure of her service when she was able to keep her big shots within the lines.
Wozniacki lost her final service game as a tennis professional and her last stroke was a forehand that went long to send the Tunisian world number 78 into the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.
“I think it was only fitting that my career would end with a three-setter, a grinder,” Wozniacki laughed.
“And that I would finish my career with a forehand error, these are the things I have been working for all of my career.”
With the entire crowd on its feet applauding, Wozniacki completed her final afternoon on court by performing a lap of honor draped in the Danish flag.
Jabeur, who beat 12th seed Johanna Konta in the first round and former world number four Caroline Garcia in the second, will next face the winner of the match between Serena Williams and Wang Qiang.
“I’m really happy, usually I lose in the first round at this Grand Slam,” said the 25-year-old.
“I don’t have much experience so I had some nerves, especially in the third set.
“I’m really lucky that I played you Caro,” she added, turning to Wozniacki.
“You have been such an inspiration.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Clarence Fernandez)