x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Engagement with McIlroy could prove a hitch for Wozniacki

Paul Oberjuerge reckons the former tennis world No 1’s engagement to golf superstar signals end of career.

Caroline Wozniacki’s game has dropped since she started dating Rory McIlroy, writes our columnist. Chris Hocking / EPA
Caroline Wozniacki’s game has dropped since she started dating Rory McIlroy, writes our columnist. Chris Hocking / EPA

Sports romances are a slippery business. “Congratulations, kids!” often is followed by, “But what about your career?”

This is germane again following the New Year’s Day Twitter announcement by Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki, that they are engaged to be married.

Could this be the beginning of the end of Wozniacki as a force in professional tennis? It may be unkind but she has not been the same player since her romance with the Northern Irishman began, in the summer of 2011.

Back then, the Dane was in the eighth month of a 47-week stretch when she was No 1 in the world. She had won her sixth event of the year at New Haven on August 27 and, at age 21, already had won 18 WTA championships.

She was known for never having won a grand slam, but most thought she would. Instead, her form has declined.

She won only 32 of her first 50 matches in 2012. She lost the No 1 ranking to Victoria Azarenka after the Australian Open and went out in the third round, the first round and the first round, respectively, in the other three majors. The later dismissal, at the US Open, saw her drop out of the top 10 for the first time in three years.

She won twice late in the year to climb back to No 10.

She won one title in 2013 and did not survive the fourth round in a grand slam. She again finished the year at No 10.

Granted, she had injury issues at times during the past two years. A baulky knee has been cited. Her 2014 debut was backed up a week because of a sore shoulder.

Yesterday, she played her first match of 2014, defeating Julia Georges at the Sydney International 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, which is a promising start. She needs to be at her best soon; the Australian Open is next week.

Marriages and engagements for tennis players, in midcareer, often have not worked out; distance and training schedules can cause problems.

Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors were engaged but never married; ditto, Lleyton Hewitt and Kim Clijsters. Martina Hingis and Radek Stepanek did not work out.

Others have fared better, perhaps because it was clear whose career needed to be nurtured. Roger Federer and Mirka Vavrinec married in 2002 and are together still, but Mirka’s career was over because of injuries. Steffi Graf had retired by the time she married Andre Agassi.

History seems to suggest only one spouse can remain at the top of their sport and, in the case of “Wozilroy”, it is Wozniacki who is giving way. Perhaps it is a sacrifice she is willing to make.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae