Caroline Wozniacki may be playing the second-to-last event of her professional career at the ASB Classic but the Dane insists she’s in it to win it – and she should have little trouble in getting past wildcard Paige Hourigan in the first round in Auckland.
Wozniacki vs Hourigan is live from Auckland on Tuesday 7 January at 6pm local/5am GMT
Former world no. 1 Wozniacki announced during the off-season that she planned to retire after the Australian Open, after a 2019 season in which she struggled to stay healthy in the wake of being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2018. The Dane, still ranked world no. 38 and a Charleston finalist and Beijing semifinalist in 2019, told the media this week in Auckland that she had no intention of changing her mind – but insisted that she had prepared for the ASB Classic and the Australian Open as she would any other season.
‘I’ve prepared 100 percent, the best that I could, and I’m just going to go out there and try and finish on a high,’ Wozniacki said.
‘It’s really no different. I need to be in the best shape, I need to do everything possible to give myself the best chance.’
Wozniacki has already played one match at the ASB Classic, teaming up with Serena Williams to beat Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya – Wozniacki’s first doubles match since 2016.
— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) January 6, 2020
The ASB Classic has been a very successful tournament for Wozniacki over the years so it makes sense that she would choose to play here before her last hurrah in Melbourne – the title has always eluded her thus far, but she finished runner-up in 2015 to Venus Williams and in 2018 to Julia Goerges and reached the semifinals in 2016. Wozniacki was one of Bianca Andreescu’s victims on the Canadian’s way to the final in 2019, but still the Dane has never lost her opening match at the ASB Classic – and it doesn’t look, with all due respect to her first-round opponent, like she will start on Tuesday.
Wozniacki will open her campaign against Paige Hourigan, a 22-year-old wildcard from New Zealand who is currently ranked world no. 438.
Hourigan played college tennis in the USA so she is still just starting her pro career: She played only six tournaments in 2018, for example, all on the ITF circuit, winning the $15k in Corroios Seixal. The Kiwi played her first full pro season in 2019, winning her second ITF title at the $15k in Cancun and reaching a $25k semifinal in Singapore, but did not succeed in pushing her ranking up very far, climbing to a career-high ranking of world no. 408 in August but ending the season down at world no. 438 again.
Hourigan’s WTA Tour experience is limited to playing qualifying for the ASB Classic the last three years – going 0-3 in the process, including a defeat to fellow New Zealand wildcard Valentina Ivanov last year – so this will be her first main-draw WTA match as well as her first meeting with a player ranked inside the top 100. By my reckoning, Hourigan’s career-best win in terms of ranking was over a player ranked world no. 289, Usue Maitane Arconada, in July 2018.
It’s a far cry from facing Wozniacki – even a Wozniacki who is about to retire. But Hourigan does have the advantages of being completely unfamiliar to her opponent, and also having nothing to lose as well.
‘I’ve grown up looking at her,’ Hourigan said. ‘She’s sponsored by Stella McCartney and that’s ultimately who I want to be sponsored by.
‘I’m going to go out there and try to not think about it too much, just do me and we’ll see how it goes. As she’s retiring, she’s probably going to go out there with nothing on her back, nothing to lose. So I’ll go out there, play my heart out and fight, that’s all I do really.’
It’s still difficult to imagine that this will be anything other than a straight-sets victory for Wozniacki, who may be about to retire, but is not being forced out of the game by chronic injury. The Dane is going out on her own terms, and if you ask me, not without getting a few more wins in Auckland.