By Jim Fuller, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
NEW HAVEN – In the back of her mind Caroline Wozniacki figured there would come a time when she would walk out of the Connecticut Tennis Center on the losing side of things. However, the last thing she ever pondered was tasting defeat the way she did in the New Haven Open semifinals on Friday afternoon.
Wozniacki, the four-time defending champion, was raring to go against Maria Kirilenko, ailing right knee and all. But as the first set moved forward and the discomfort in her knee would not subside, she was left with a dilemma of playing through the pain and putting her US Open participation in jeopardy, or the retire and see her 20-match winning streak in New Haven snapped.
After Kirilenko broke Wozniacki in the 11th game of the first set en route to winning the first set 7-5 it was decision time for Wozniacki. With the prospects of winning a three-setter from Kirilenko seeming rather bleak she pulled the plug of her incredible winning streak and retired.
"It's definitely not the way I would have liked to have finished here, having won four times," Wozniacki said. "I would have loved to just play a normal match. If I won, that would be great. If not, I would lose in a normal way.
"I could feel it from the start. It just started to get a bit worse. I decided to stop because if you can't compete at 100 percent it's better to let it rest. I wasn't going to win this match anyways if I'm not 100 percent."
Wozniacki moved significantly better than she did when she tweaked something in her right knee in the first game of the second set in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over Dominika Cibulkova.
However, as she went deeper into the first set she could be seen making eye contact with her father and others in her player’s box. She called for her coach midway through the first set and for a trainer in between the first and second sets. She got up from her chair walked over to Kirilenko, exchanged a few words before shaking Kirilenko’s hand.
"I think she (made) a right decision to take a rest before US Open," said Kirilenko, who only had to play five sets to reach her first WTA final on American soil. "She tried today. If she has a pain, I think it's the right decision, of course, to take some rest before the big one."
Wozniacki, who matched Venus Williams’ feat of winning in New Haven for four years in a row, had a chance to join Hall of Famers Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as the only players to win the same WTA event five consecutive times before her retirement ended her reign.
"It's definitely meant a lot to me, this tournament," Wozniacki said. "It was a big tournament for me to win back in 2008. Then coming back and defending it in 2009 was huge, as well, for me because I think that was the first time I had to go and defend a title. That was something that was special. You defend it again and again, all of a sudden you're in this elite group that has won a tournament four times. There are a lot of players that never win a tournament and there are a lot of players that never win four. Winning the same one four times in a row is definitely special."
Naturally Wozniacki’s face was plastered all over promotional billboards and brochures since she has become the face of the WTA’s only New England tour stop. That didn’t seem to bother Kirilenko one bit.
"To be honest, I didn't even think about it," Kirilenko said. "She deserved to be on the stand if she was winning this tournament four times in a row. She really played good here. Well, I don't really care if I will be (on billboards) next year."
While much has been made of Wozniacki’s famous boyfriend (golfer Rory McIlroy), Kirilenko has been spared from inquiries about her boyfriend who is NHL star Alexander Ovechkin – until Friday’s post-match press conference.
Kirilenko said she wasn’t sure if Ovechkin would be in attendance in Saturday’s singles final and had some fun with a playful question about whether she has any inside information on the labor issues NHL players and owners are trying to resolve to avoid a work stoppage.
"I don't know," Kirilenko said. "I'm not sure. I'm not really into the problem what they have right now. But I heard some stories."