World #1 Wozniacki must win when it matters

If there is any tennis player under the same amount of pressure to win a Grand Slam as Andy Murray – if not more – it is surely Caroline Wozniacki.  The 20-year-old Dane has been world #1 for six months now (bar one week in February where she dropped behind Kim Clijsters) but does she really have the game to claim one of the big prizes and justify her ranking?  The evidence, so far, is inconclusive.

Over on the “Yes she can” side of the fence, supporters point to Wozniacki’s consistency, her work ethic and her titles won so far.  Her defensive style of play is well-rounded with no obvious weaknesses, and her movement around the court is often exceptional; similar to her more experienced rival Clijsters in many ways.  

Wozniacki rarely misses a week on the tour and is more or less a dead cert for the latter stages of any tournament she attends; even when things look to be going against her she is remarkably resilient.  In 2010 she won six titles – more than anyone else – and looks very capable of beating that this year, having already won three including the prestigious BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

However, it is often these same elements that the “No she can’t” camp uses to play down the likelihood of Wozniacki winning a major.  A common complaint from doubters is that she is only #1 because of the sheer number of tournaments she contests, accruing more and more ranking points without winning any finals.  It’s a different approach from the likes of Serena Williams, who notoriously can sit out of the tour for weeks before swooping in to win Wimbledon.

She is also criticised for being too defensive, at times even passive, when the moment calls for her to step forward and take control of a match, as demonstrated by her loss yesterday to home favourite Julia Goerges at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix final in Stuttgart.  The title (and sports car that comes with it) was there for the taking, but Wozniacki sat back and let world #27 Goerges take the driver’s seat, hitting just nine winners to the German’s 38.  She looked uncharacteristically tired – and perhaps, after an unmanageable number of matches and three-hour workout sessions, she was.

It seems that Caroline Wozniacki has the tools to make a real name for herself; she just needs to work out how and when to better use them.  Her good looks, sunny personality and graciousness in defeat make her a sponsor’s dream and a potential people’s favourite.  But to become a household name like Clijsters and Williams, she’ll have to plan her calendar more selectively, pace herself throughout the year and play more aggressively in crucial points.

With the Williams sisters, Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka all battling injuries, Wozniacki will go into next month’s French Open as the overwhelming favourite.  So far, it doesn’t seem to be a label she likes being stuck with, but she will have to get used to it.  Otherwise, like Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina before her, she could very possibly end up fading away as a former world #1 without a Grand Slam.

Martin McGale


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