US Open final: Friends face off
Kerber and Wozniacki on collision course for spot in final
Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber are joined by friendship, Polish roots and cosy coffee chats but, tomorrow morning (Singapore time), they'll be ruthless in pursuit of a place in the US Open final.
It's an intriguing semi-final clash between a former world No. 1 who has never won a Grand Slam title and the current No. 2 who claimed a first Major at the Australian Open in January.
"We are similar in that we are both hardworking. That hard work pays off. She's obviously very passionate," said Wozniacki (right), who beat Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova 6-0, 6-2 in the quarter-finals yesterday.
"Angie's had a great year and I'm happy for her."
The two friends' paths have been heading in dramatically different directions this year.
A right-ankle injury sidelined 26-year-old Wozniacki for the best part of three months and her enforced absence from the French Open ended a streak of 36 successive appearances at the Majors. Her ranking coming into New York was 74th.
In contrast, Kerber (left) has appeared in two of the three Grand Slam finals, her success in Melbourne followed by defeat by Serena Williams in the Wimbledon championship match.
The German, two years older at 28, could be No. 1 in the world next week, five years after Wozniacki last held the position. Kerber brought Italian Roberta Vinci's Flushing Meadows dream run to an end with a clinical 7-5, 6-0 win yesterday.
Wozniacki, Kerber as well as sisters Agnieszka and Urszula Radwanska have all grown up on the Tour, all boasting Polish blood.
The Radwanskas are Polish-born. Kerber has a Polish father and German mother. Wozniacki's parents - Piotr and Anna - left Poland to settle in Denmark when he secured a professional football contract with top Danish side Odense, where Wozniacki was born in 1990.
The four players' Polish bond is evident in holiday photos and they remain as close as they can be in the cut-throat environment of professional tennis.
"We would still go on vacations, but Aga is getting married. We just want a girls' trip, but it's tough when everyone has her own thing," said Wozniacki.
"But we hang out and we have coffees and sit and talk and have a good time.
"The great thing about our little group is that we have hung out for years and it doesn't matter who is No. 1 or who is lower ranked, we always have our little clique. We chat and have a laugh."
There hasn't been a lot to laugh about for Wozniacki in recent months.
This week, her father Piotr even suggested that she was close to retirement, despite her reaching a Grand Slam semi-final for the first time in two years.
"We have not taken any final decision but, as I understand her, it will not be a long career," he was quoted as saying.
Wozniacki's carefree hitting at the US Open has been interpreted as a sign that for someone with 23 career titles and US$20 million ($27m) in the bank, there are few challenges left - apart from that elusive first Major.
But Wozniacki was coy on her father's speculation that she is on the verge of retiring from tennis.
"I don't want to really talk about that now. When I feel ready to open up and say something then I will but, for now, I'm just here to play this tournament," she said.
"Hopefully, I have two more matches here... It's all I'm focused on right now.
"Obviously, I want to win every match, but it's different. I'm not the favourite. I'm just going in there as the underdog and going out doing my thing."
Kerber leads Wozniacki 7-5 in career meetings, but they have never met at a Grand Slam.
If the German prevails tomorrow morning and goes on to dethrone Williams as world No. 1, Wozniacki will be one of the first to congratulate her coffee-club friend.
"It's something that very few people in the world have ever achieved. I mean, how crazy is it to say that you're the best in the world at something?
"Doesn't matter if it's tennis, football, being a lawyer, whatever it is. It's really special."
MEN'S SINGLES QUARTER-FINALS
- Novak Djokovic (x1) bt Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (x9) 6-3, 6-2 - retired
- Gael Monfils (x10) bt Lucas Pouille (x24) 6-4, 6-3, 6-3
WOMEN'S SINGLES QUARTER-FINALS
- Angelique Kerber (x2) bt Roberta Vinci (x7) 7-5, 6-0
- Caroline Wozniacki bt Anastasija Sevastova 6-0, 6-2.