Caroline Wozniacki, the 19-year-old world No 3, was unsure whether she would be fit to compete at the ongoing French Open, after being forced to retire from the WTA's Warsaw tournament last week. The Dane injured her right ankle in Charlestone in early April. The injury was cruel on Wozniacki who had hit a rich vein of form, reaching the final of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, before retaining her MPS Group Championships title at Ponte Vedra Beach a month later.
Last year's US Open final was widely seen as Wozniacki's major breakthrough and she approached this season as a hot favourite for grand slam success. Australia - where she lost in the fourth round - could be deemed a blip, but the French was in her sights after victory in Florida. Yet by the time she arrived in Warsaw, she had managed only two wins in her previous three tournaments (Stuttgart, Rome and Madrid) and, despite donning heavy strapping, she continued to feel pain in her ankle and was forced to retire in the quarter-finals against China's Zheng Jie, and understandably feared she would miss the clay-court grand slam. However, spurred on by the thought of competing in the season's second major and aided by a favourable draw made possible by her ranking as the tournament's third seed, Wozniacki recovered adequately and had, before yesterday, overcome early battles with straight-sets victories over Alla Kudryatseva, Tathiana Garbin and Alexandra Dulgheru.
The reward for her dominance on the clay was a fourth-round tie with Flavia Pennetta and the No 14 seed gave Wozniacki her biggest test yet under the Parisian sun. A three-hour tussle was settled in the final set when Pennetta faded, allowing Wozniacki - wearing strapping on both her right ankle and left groin - to close the match 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-2 and book her place in the quarter-finals, where she will face another Italian in the form of Francesca Schiavone.
In the four majors, Wozniacki has continually surpassed her results of the previous year: A third-round finish at Wimbledon in 2008 was bettered last summer when she reached the last 16; while the fourth-round finish at Melbourne in January outdid last year's third-round exit. And, of course, few can forget the forceful displays at Flushing Meadows last September that resulted in the 19-year-old reaching her first grand slam final, only to lose to the returning and resurgent Kim Clijsters.
Depending how her injuries recover, a place in the semi-finals could beckon. Wozniacki has played 29-year-old Schiavone only once, losing in straight sets in Zurich two years ago, but there is no doubting the younger of the two players has developed at a more remarkable pace. Wozniacki is a far higher calibre of player than she was in 2008 and Schiavone will quickly notice. The last time they met there were seven places between the two players in the world rankings - Wozniacki was 15th, while the Italian was 23rd. Now there are 14. The Dane may have the upper hand, but whether she has the legs for the fight will ultimately decide the outcome.