Pitted against a qualifier in the finals of the first-ever New Haven Open, Caroline Wozniacki, the tournament’s top seed, could have easily succumbed to the pressure. But after survived a first-set challenge, the Danish beauty showed why she’s the top-ranked women’s tennis player in the world by cruising to a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Petra Cetkovska of The Czech Republic before an announced pre-hurricane crowd of 4,013 at the Connecticut Tennis Center at Yale on Saturday. The match, originally scheduled for 5 p.m., was pushed up to 1 p.m. in order to accommodate fans wanting sufficient time to get home in time to beat the arrival of Hurricane Irene. (The announced attendance was obviously a count of tickets sold, including no-shows; there appeared to be far fewer actual fannies in the seats to the naked eye.)
Indeed, the weather, which caused a one-hour, 40-minute delay 14 minutes into the first set, hung over the sparse crowd like the guillotine awaiting a date with Marie Antoinette’s neck. New York City Transit (including Metro-North, which serves New Haven and Fairfield Counties) had shut down at noon. Shoreline East and CT Transit were scheduled to shut down at 8 p.m., and not resume service until Monday. And Amtrak’s last train out of New Haven was scheduled for 6 p.m. Given the seriousness of what was about to happen within the next 12 hours or so, most tennis fans heeded Governor Malloy’s call to stay home and batten down the hatches—and, perchance, watch the delayed broadcast of the match on ESPN2.
It was the second natural disaster withstood by this re-branded tournament—formerly known as the Volvo and, most recently, the Pilot Pen, in less than a week. On Tuesday, play was temporarily suspended after the facility was shaken by Tuesday’s East Coast earthquake centered in Virginia and measuring 5.8 on the Richter Scale.
Had play not been able to resume outdoors, the match would have been forced to move inside. With a Category 1 hurricane taking dead aim at New Haven and the U.S. Open main draw starting on Monday in New York, there simply was no wiggle room. Suspending play and resuming on Sunday was not an option. And moving the match inside would have been problematic for tournament director Anne Worcester, as seating capacity at Yale’s indoor courts is around 300. “Just a miracle that we got that final in,” admitted an obviously relieved Worcester after the match ended.
When play resumed with the first set tied at one game apiece, Cetkovska broke Wozniacki’s serve. The three-time defending champ broke right back, but the challenger returned the favor one more time to go up 3-2. However, any thoughts of an upset by the 26-year-old Czech, who came into the tournament ranked at No. 40 but is expected to climb into the mid 30s when the new rankings are released on Monday, were soon put to rest. The Great Dane shifted into overdrive, won 10 of the next 12 games, and joined Venus Williams as the only players to win four straight titles in the Elm City. The win also meant that Wozniacki would head to New York with momentum after a disappointing summer summer hardcourt season.
In addition to tying Williams, Wozniacki joins a elite list of bona fide Hall-of-Famers, including the likes of Stefanie Graff (no longer Steffi, please!), Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles, as the only women to have won four or more consecutive titles in the same tournament.
“I’m really pleased to be in this situation,”she said in front of her adoring fans with Neil Diamond’s classic Sweet Caroline blaring through the stadium sound system. “Win four straight times in a row, it’s really unbelievable. I still can’t really believe I’ve been here four times already. Feel like the time is flying by.”
Also on hand to witness the historic win was Wozniacki’s main squeeze, golfer Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, along with her personal rooting section, a.k.a. the Yale football team.
McIlroy, who won this year’s U.S. Open Championship in Bethesda, Md., told reporters he enjoyed himself immensely in New Haven throughout the week, and would welcome the chance to return to Connecticut next year if the situation so presented itself. It also opened up the intriguing possibility of a “Royal Couple” scenario—the likes of which the sports world hasn’t seen since the days of Evert and Jimmy Connors—particularly if Wozniacki wins her first major tournament at next week’s U.S. Open in New York.
But first, Princess Caroline will take a deep breath and enjoy what she has achieved thus far in the city she has come to love as if it were her own—because, indeed, it is.
“It’s a great tournament for me,” she said of her perfect 17-0 match record played in New Haven. “I love being back here. I just have a good momentum every time I play here. The balls are good. The tournament is nice. You always play better when you like to be around a tournament. [To] win four straight times in a row… It’s really unbelievable.”