x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Wozniacki hits the big time

Dane breaks into top five in WTA rankings Teenager also shows she has calibre to stay at the top by playing through the pain barrier William Johnson Chief Sports Writer Doha // Caroline Wozniacki set out at the start of what has become a long and arduous tennis year as one of a crop of exciting teenagers looking to break through into the world's top 10. She ends the season having surpassed her greatest expectations and having established herself as the new shining star of the women's game.

Wozniacki, a 5ft 10in blonde from Denmark, has risen to the dizzy heights of fourth in the rankings on the strength of her first appearance in a grand slam final - the US Open in September - and she looks on the verge of greater success when she resumes business in the new year after a well-earned rest. She might have made her mark in the season-ending Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships here in Doha had she been fully fit because her performances in the Khalifa Complex were as impressive as any at this annual elite gathering.

A thigh injury sustained on the eve of the tournament - a painful setback which caused her to default when on the brink of victory in Luxembourg - made her a Doha doubt from the outset. But she battled bravely to make light of her problems on the way to the semi-finals and was looking a big threat to Serena Williams in the last four until she finally ran out of steam. Not only was her heavily bandaged left limb handicapping her movement against the new world No 1, she also developed an abdominal injury which required several visits from the Tour trainer in her final two days of action.

"I felt pain in my stomach muscles and had to give up in the end," she said after finally calling time on her gallant efforts shortly after losing a tight opening set to Serena, who also admitted being close to breaking point at the end of an exhausting but triumphant campaign. Wozniacki disclosed: "Like the previous day, it caused me problems serving and then it started affecting my ground shots so it was just too much for me to keep playing."

The youngster departed with the same happy demeanour as she had begun what she felt was a rewarding week in top-class company. "I could either smile or I could cry," she said, "so I chose to smile. I mean, there's nothing else you can do. I've had a great year. I did all I could. I used all my strength I had left. But I just didn't have any more left. So, yeah. "And I think the crowd deserved for me to say thank you to them, as well, because they've been a great support all week, I've had a great tournament. It doesn't matter that I couldn't really finish it off."

Wozniacki is more grateful than most of her counterparts that the women's season is ending earlier this year than in previous years and she is confident that two months of rest and recuperation will enable her to become a big threat to Serena and the returning Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin in the chase for next year's big titles. She takes great encouragement from her Doha victories over close rivals Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva, who came in as a replacement for Dinara Safina and lasted only two games before retiring with a back injury.

"I learned that I'm a huge fighter and to believe that nothing is impossible," she concluded. "I am still young and I just need to keep improving. Next time I step on the court, I will try to play even better than I did here." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae