MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Caroline Wozniacki said she hoped to be remembered as a hard worker who made the locker room a friendlier place as she waltzed into retirement following her third-round loss at the Australian Open on Friday.
Wozniacki’s loss brought down the curtain on a glittering career for one of Denmark’s most successful athletes and she danced around Melbourne Arena with her country’s flag to the strains of “Sweet Caroline” after her match.
The 29-year-old spent 71 weeks at the top of the world rankings and finished with 30 singles titles, including her lone Grand Slam title in Melbourne in 2018.
“I had a dream when I was a kid. I wanted to win a Grand Slam. I wanted to be number one in the world,” she told reporters.
“People thought that I was crazy being from a small country. But I made it happen. I worked so hard for it every single day.”
Coached by her father Piotr, Wozniacki rose to the top on the back of a resilient game marked by incredible court coverage and relentless counter-punching.
She reached her maiden Grand Slam final at the age of 19 at the 2009 U.S. Open but fell at the final hurdle to Belgian Kim Clijsters.
Her first stint as world number one followed in October 2010 and she finished the year with a tour-leading six titles, a feat that she would repeat in 2011.
There was constant criticism of her failure to win a Grand Slam, however, with critics deriding her lack of power and grinding style.
She finally put those doubts to rest after winning the Australian Open and returning to the number one ranking in January 2018.
Reflecting on her legacy, Wozniacki said she hoped to be remembered as someone who gave everything on court and a trailblazer for players from countries outside the tennis elite.
“I hope that I’ll give inspiration even to the players from small countries that may have never had a world number one or a Grand Slam champion ... that they can do it,” she said.
“I hope that I’ll leave some happiness around the locker room.
“Everyone wants to be the best. I hope that I gave some excitement and release and some happiness in the locker room with the chats and the fun talks we’ve had.”
Wozniacki announced her plan to retire last month, saying that she wanted to start a family with her husband, former NBA player David Lee.
“I think there’s so much to life,” she said.
“I’m sure there are going to be times when I wish I was out there playing in Grand Slam finals or semi-finals.
“But you know what? There will be other moments in my life that I think are going to mean just as much or maybe more, who knows?”
Wozniacki was well-loved by her peers and developed close friendships with some of her greatest rivals, including 23-times Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.
An emotional Williams fought back tears as she was asked about her friend’s retirement during her post-match interview on Friday.
“I’m going to miss her,” Williams said. “She’s one of my best friends in the world. We have a great life for the rest of our lives together, but I’m going to miss her out on tour.”
Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman