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PARIS -- One game from a brutally predictable first-round defeat, Caroline Wozniacki sat in her changeover chair with an acutely forlorn look on her face. The Dane appeared to be on the verge of tears.
She was the WTA's No. 1-ranked player for 18 weeks 3½ years ago. Even today she is a still-strong No. 14. But on Tuesday, she wasn't nearly as forceful as her ranking. Wozniacki was sent home from Roland Garros by Yanina Wickmayer 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2.
|Caroline Wozniacki will try to recoup for Wimbledon, which starts in a month.|
We are fascinated by the cult of celebrity. But when two outsized personalities become one, that chemistry is oh-so compelling. When they come from the same arena -- think Jay Z and Beyoncé -- well, it's almost impossible to resist.
Certainly, the paparazzi don't.
This is why for two years it was difficult to take our eyes off the relationship between the 23-year-old Wozniacki and pro golfer Rory McIlroy. They were peas in a pod, cute as a boot. And then, after the couple sent out 300 wedding invitations, the 25-year-old McIlroy got cold feet. Last week, he announced the wedding was off. A friend was quoted as saying the Northern Irish golfer was "freaked out" by how quickly Wozniacki's planning had come together.
McIlroy, perhaps not coincidentally, won his first golf tournament of the year Sunday, the BMW PGA Championship in England, with a 6-under 66 in the final round.
Taking the court for the first time since the announcement, Wozniacki was not so lucky. Or maybe luck had nothing to do with it.
After her loss, a composed Wozniacki met the media. At the beginning of the interview she asked reporters to refrain from asking questions about her personal life.
"I hope that you all can understand that," she said. "The only thing I really have to say is ... thank everybody for their support and sweet messages. That's really nice.
"What happens in my personal life, I just want to keep that between my closest people around me. I just have to move on."
But that didn't stop reporters from dancing around the subject.
"You're not prepared for something like this," Wozniacki allowed a bit later, "and came a bit as a shock. I just tried to prepare the best that I could, and really tried to focus on my match and on what I had to do out there. It doesn't make it easier that I haven't been able to play really that many matches because I have been injured."
Here, in another installment of Baseline Buzz, Jim Caple of espnW and ESPN.com senior writer Greg Garber explore the topic that once was Wozzilroy:
Garber: According to the McIlroy camp, things haven't been quite right between them for some time. Certainly, Wozniacki has been struggling lately. The WTA's former No. 1 player has seen her ranking slide to No. 14. Five weeks ago, she pulled out of Stuttgart with a wrist injury, then lost her second match in Rome to Roberta Vinci. Last week, she withdrew from the event in Rome with a knee injury. You have to believe this thing is drastically affecting her tennis.
Caple: Well, you might believe it and it's quite possible, but no one can say for sure without personally knowing her. My experience covering sports has been that personal issues affect different athletes in different ways. Some clearly aren't able to distance themselves from their personal troubles. Others, however, find the field/court/arena is an escape from their problems, allowing them to perform even better than usual. Pete Rose once said baseball provided a release during an ugly divorce. So maybe a troubled relationship affected Wozniacki. But we're talking about someone who had the talent and inner strength to be ranked No. 1 in the world. It's just as reasonable that she's been struggling recently because of an achy body, not a breaky heart.
|Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki once seemed inseparable.|
Garber: I think we all know the answer to that one, sir. It is human nature to want to connect what we see off the court to what happens on it. What intrigues me is the swift commentary trashing the relationship -- because it seemed to affect both of their athletic endeavors. NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller has always been openly critical, and after McIlroy won in England, Greg Norman was moved to tweet: "Goes to show a free mind produces free golf. More to come." Norman, for what it's worth, is working on his third wife.
Caple: I think the swift trashing commentary is due to British tabloids and social media blowing things out of proportion and trying to make something out of nothing. Grigor Dimitrov lost his first-round match today. Is that because he's been dating Maria Sharapova? Did the Red Sox lose the 2003 ALCS because of Nomar Garciaparra's then-upcoming wedding with Mia Hamm? Please. These are human beings, not Kardashians. Let them live their lives in peace.
Garber: Not to beat a dead horse, but ... according to the numbers served up by our research staff, Wozniacki's tennis fared reasonably well in the first 18 months of the relationship. But since the beginning of 2013, Wozniacki lost in the first round of the French Open and Wimbledon, and lost in the third round at the US Open to a qualifier ranked No. 136 in the world. She won a single title last year and has yet to triumph this year. Hopefully, like Rory Boy, she'll lose herself in her game and see her results improve.
Caple: Indeed. Better yet, use it as motivation to show all those pesky gossip-lovers why she's a champion. You don't get to No. 1 in the world without being able to put aside other issues. After the breakup, Woz tweeted, "It's a hard time for me right now. Thanks for all the sweet messages! Happy I support Liverpool right now because I know I'll never walk alone." To which Serena Williams tweeted, "I'll always walk with you. #friends forever."
Someone asked Serena here whether it was harder to lose in tennis or to break up. Yeah, that's a valid comparison. "I would rather lose any day than break up," Serena said. "It's always hard. It's definitely easier to take a loss because you always have next week. But at the end of the day when you really are young, you always have next year, and you have the rest of your life." Very true, but an athlete has only a finite career. So turn it around and shut up those tabloids at Wimbledon, Woz.
Garber: Now that her much-anticipated news conference is over, Wozniacki will try to gather herself for the grass-court season. There will be some ticklish moments next month, particularly when the British tabloid reporters (is that an oxymoron?) bring up the subject again. And again. The good news? When Wimbledon is over, the most painful post-Rory phase of her life will be too. Hard courts are her best surface, and I wish her well.
Caple: And then we can finally get on to much more important things. Like how Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are doing.