Before Genie Bouchard, Canada had Aleksandra Wozniak.
And for many of those years, the Blainville, Que. native was the only Canadian player of significance on either the WTA or ATP Tours, with the notable exception of doubles star Daniel Nestor.
Now 31 – still young by today’s standards – Wozniak never truly recovered from shoulder surgery in the late summer of 2014.
The serve never came back. And the body struggled.
On Wednesday in Montreal, Wozniak announced she was retiring from the sport after a career that began with appearances in $10,000 ITF events in the Montreal area before she even turned 13, in 2000.
“The past few years have been challenging with all of the injuries, but I always continued to fight because I was still passionate about my sport,” Wozniak said in a statement. “I love tennis just as much today. But due to my injuries, my body is no longer able to perform at 100 per cent. It is time for me to turn the page.”
Few matches in 2018
The announcement comes as no surprise.
Wozniak’s last match came back in April. It was a 6-4, 6-2 loss to top American junior Whitney Osuigwe in a $25,000 ITF in Jackson, Mississippi.
She played one ITF in February, and another in March.
Her last great moment came when she won the title at another $25K in Stillwater, Okla. last October. She also won the title at a similar event in Gatineau, Que. in Aug. 2017. But between those two titles, and in seven tournaments following the win in Stillwater, Wozniak failed to win back-to-back matches.
The issue, above all, was the shoulder.
Wozniak did every thing she could to avoid the shoulder surgery that has taken down many players before her.
But shoulder operations don’t have nearly the same success rate in tennis as they do, say, in baseball. Which is why most players try every other option, therapy-wise, before getting there.
Wozniak was never able to get the pop back on her serve – or even serve with any consistency. As well, she was always limited in terms of the amount she could practice it – both before and after the surgery.
But she can leave knowing she gave it everything she had.
No. 21 ranking in 2009
When Wozniak was coming up, it was generally said about her that her backhand was a world-class stroke. As she rose in the rankings, she rounded out her game to become a steady, consistent player with no one major weapon, but no visible weakness.
Her best moment came at the Stanford WTA event (now relocated to San Jose).
Wozniak had just jumped into the top 100 with a third-round effort at the French Open in 2008 when she defeated Samantha Stosur in the final round of qualifying.
As fate would have it, she ran into lucky loser Stosur in the quarterfinals of the main draw, after upsetting top-30 players Sybille Bammer and Francesca Schiavone in the earlier rounds.
Then, a break. Wozniak faced Serena Williams in the semifinals, only to have the top American retire midway through the second set.
Wozniak then defeated No. 15 Marion Bartoli in the final to win her only career WTA Tour title, and jump into the top 50.
The Canadian was stymied often by friend Caroline Wozniacki (both have Polish fathers) along the way.
Wozniacki defeated her in the final of the now-defunct Ponte Vedra Beach event in 2009 (on Wozniak’s best surface, clay – or Har-Tru, at least). The Dane also defeated her in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal in 2012. And in the semis of Eastbourne that year. And at the Australian Open, and the French Open.
Who knows what other accomplishments the Canadian might have on her resumé, if not for the near-namesake she was often confused with?
Wozniak reached No. 3 in the ITF junior rankings after the 2005 Australian Open, She beat Sara Errani – and Wozniacki – there before losing to Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals.
Fed Cup stalwart
Back in the days when the Canadian Fed Cup team toiled in the zonal competition every year, Wozniak was always here. When the team graduated to World Group II, she was still there.
Wozniak played in 36 ties, and holds the Canadian records for most wins, most singles and most ties played.
But perhaps her most emotional moments for her country came late in her career.
In 2014, the year she had the shoulder surgery, Wozniak pulled off three-set victories both in a first-round tie against Serbia, and a playoff tie that April against Slovakia.
The win against Vesna Dolonc and Serbia, in particular, was an emotional one for the general stoic Wozniak. She had missed a big chunk of the 2013 season with the shoulder woes, and her ranking was outside the top 250.
Wozniak followed that up with a fourth-round effort at Indian Wells, beating top-25 players Sabine Lisicki and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the way. She hoisted herself back into the top 100 by the US Open, which was her last tournament before the surgery.
In 2016, she returned to action in Fed Cup. With Genie Bouchard unavailable, she was pressed into service with options thin on the singles side and posted encouraging victories on the opening day of defeats to Belarus and then Slovakia.
The last few years have been a struggle.
Sponsors and federations are always eager to help young players coming up. But when a player is trying to come back from injury, or giving it one last go, the calls don’t get returned with much regularity.
Wozniak tried the crowd-funding route, with limited success.
In the end, the writing was on the wall.
“I took the time to really think it over before making the decision,” Wozniak said. “I’m ready now to experience new things. I don’t yet know what awaits me, but I’d like to be able to give back to my sport, since it has brought me so much.”
Wozniak’s announcement comes just a week after former junior rival Marina Erakovic did the same – again, because injuries just wouldn’t allow her to continue.