Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Growing Pains: Wozniacki Looks to Conquer Her Youth

19-year-old Caroline Wozniacki was maligned after her loss in the Indian Wells final to Jelena Jankovic. Perhaps her detractors are failing to give her credit where credit is due?

Now that she is ranked No. 2 in the world, ahead of such juggernauts as Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Venus Williams, and Elena Dementieva, there have been rumblings on the twitter wires and in the press regarding Caroline Wozniacki's place in the WTA's pecking order.

We ask: Is she really the world's second best player? Or will she soon be revealed to be an impostor, a bubbly and lovable flash in the piping hot frying pan known as the WTA's top ten?

Like Dinara Safina in 2009, questions regarding Wozniacki's legitimacy as a top tier player will ultimately be answered on the court, across the net from such proven legends as her opponent in the Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinals, Justine Henin.

As Wozniacki found herself toe-to-toe in a tense struggle with Henin beneath the ethereal Miami sun today, we had the chance to see for ourselves what the vivacious up-and-comer could bring to the table in a big match. A battle with Henin would no doubt be an excellent litmus test for a young player who entered the match with a 1-19 record against former and current No. 1 ranked players.

As the first set of the match progressed, positive elements of Wozniacki's game started to shine — the ability to routinely scorch the backhand, the surprisingly deft footwork, the penchant for counter punching, and an ability to maintain a very even keel during what turned out to be a very tense and see-sawish set of tennis.

Things were looking good for No. 2 at the onset, but deficiencies would later surface: Her consistency wavered in the second and third sets, and when she was no longer able to rely on a steady spattering of unforced errors from Henin, Wozniacki couldn't find ways to generate enough of an aggressive attack to keep Justine at bay.

This very fact was talked about at length by Lindsay Davenport, who was calling the match for Fox Sports. She mentioned that Grand-Slam winners don't get to the holy grail without possessing an aggressive first-strike nature. Does Wozniacki have that, she wondered? As the match wore on, and Henin took control, it didn't seem so.

Furthermore, when Wozniacki did attempt to hit out - either going for the lines or attempting wider angles or more pace - she made significantly more errors.

Things got turned around quickly, in spite of a quad injury that Henin sought treatment for early in the second set, and Wozniacki found herself desperately in need of a break to find a way to get back on serve in the third set.

With relatively little big match experience — compared to Henin's previous exploits — Wozniacki looked disconcerted and out -of-sync as the match headed towards its conclusion.

Before Sunshine could mount one last surge, Henin had magnificently served out the deciding game to love.

Wozniacki, meanwhile, was left to ponder what might have been, and what needs to be done.

Meanwhile, clay season awaits, and there are worse things in life than being no. 2 in the world.


  1. Great analysis of that match. Unlike Safina, Wozniacki's mental toughness is one of her biggest weapons and considering she's only 19 it will only grow. Her lack of a big shot could be a factor down the road but I think she has enough time to get one. Bottom line, she's going to be around for a long time.

  2. i have a slightly different opinion. we saw glimpses of brilliance of caroline mostly because henin's too-aggressive approach let her in the first set. it was mostly in the hands of henin, when she missed it, caro came in, when she is focused, caro is no where in the match. caroline has potential though, let's see, but it's getting tougher to get passed belgians, williamses to win a major. and without one, sooner or later, it will get into her head, just like safina, jakovic sadly. it's never good to have such high ranking without first winning a major. that was also for a long time a problem for clijsters from 2003-2005 and for mauresmo. you would have to wonder how much more achievements there might be if they have won their first major earlier. henin's path was smoothly installed with 2 majors before becoming #1 by end of 2003, then everything fell into place.

  3. I really think Wozniacki needs to be more aggressive and not just a "backboard" as many analysts are calling her. She is defensive and gets balls back, but she needs to strike. What bothers me most is how often she uses the on-court coaching. Because of this ludicrous rule, younger players are getting used to it rather than figuring things out for themselves.

  4. Chris, your readers expect you to write interesting articles and you give us what we want! Although this piece focuses mainly on Caroline Wozniacki, I am concerned about the inflammation of Justine Henin's hip. How might Henin have played against Wozniaki, from the beginning of the match, had the chronic injury not been a factor early on?

    , Svetlana Kuznetsova, Venus Williams, and Elena Dementieva, there have been rumblings on the twitter wires and in the press regarding Caroline Wozniacki's place in the WTA's pecking order.

  5. Another piece on Sunshine:

    Mr. Martin agrees with you Sunny.

    Randy - Justine has a few more aches in pains in her second career but she's still pretty amazing. I'd like to see her be a little more high percentage at times, but man can she attack.

    Jo Shum: I think Wozniacki will handle the high ranking (and pressure that comes with it) better than Dinara Safina, don't you?

  6. I think Wozniacki will handle the pressure better than Safina. She isn't being as defensive about the situation as Safina. BUT, we have to remember that Safina had Serena making remarks about Safina's ranking and the type of tournaments she won and there was a lot of media attacking the ranking. Wozniacki doesn't have that "no 1" situation. But she just seems more mature. I also think that she has a supportive group with her including her father. Although Safina's coach seemed to turn her around, he often berates her and actually left in the middle of a match.

  7. Actually that last comment from Sogn was really from me SUNNY. Sogn is my husband and has a google account. I use the name/url line to put my name on. So sorry for the confusion.

  8. Always happy to hear from you Sunny - no matter what the moniker!


Leave your two cents here!