Saturday, August 6, 2011
IN DEFENCE OF WOZNIACKI
Caroline Wozniacki is the current resident of the WTA Penthouse. She has occupied this apartment since the latter part of 2010 when she overtook Serena Williams, who was out injured from mid-2010 and who has been out for most of the 2011 season with various ailments.
Recently, Wozniacki has come under attack, subtly by the media and more vigorously from tennis fans. I am here to defend not only Wozniacki, but the WTA as well.
Unless you were a hardcore tennis head and a true fan of women’s tennis, Wozniacki’s arrival on the tennis scene was not a surprise. The first time I saw her play was in 2006. At that time she was playing a small tournament alongside what was then the Tennis Channel Open or Las Vegas Open. She played a Japanese player, a veteran of the women’s tour and she won the match quite handily. Most people who followed junior tennis, already knew about Wozniacki and her penchant for blowing up on court, so we all knew that she had fight and that she was as tough as nails.
In 2009 when Clijsters returned to the women’s tour, all the talk was about her return and what it would mean for women’s tennis. Commentators and the media were in a frenzy. Meanwhile, players like Wozniacki who had been carrying the Tour since Clijsters’ break were barely given the time of day. Until Wozniacki beat Oudin in the quarters of the US Open, I doubt if many in the commentary box even knew who she was. Comparisons were made to Hingis, Jankovic and other players who are known for their defense, rather than their offensive games. On her way to her first and only major, Wozniacki did not take down any ‘big’ name players. She played steady, made few unforced errors and even fewer winners and the holes in her game were so big that you could shoot an elephant through it, but despite all that, Woznaicki gave Clijsters a very good match, even though she lost. In 2009, Wozniacki ended the season ranked No. 4, from being ranked in the top 20. She would end the season with 3 titles and 67 match wins. The talk then was that she would lose to players who were either ranked No. 1 or who were formerly ranked No. 1. This list would include Safina, Jankovic, Ivanovic, both Williams Sisters, Sharapova, and Clijsters.
In 2010 Wozniacki went on a tear, posting some of the most incredible numbers that the women’s tour had ever seen. She would end the season ranked No. 1 and 6 titles and posting a 62 match win streak.
Since 2011, Wozniacki has won 4 titles and reached the semis of the Australian Open. Why then is she getting so much schtick from commentators and fans alike? Grand Slams.
Grand Slams are the pinnacle of our sport. Most players will tell you that their dream is to win Wimbledon or some other of the Grand Slams. Wozniacki has never said that this was her goal. Her goal has always been to win titles and be the No. 1 player in the world. However, as a top ranked player and the leader of her Tour she should try to win one, but if she does not, does that make her not worthy of occupying the top spot.
Many fans say that Wozniacki just plays a lot of tournaments and that is why she occupies the penthouse. I disagree. They are of the view that the women should have a ranking system similar or tournaments based on what the men have. They do.
The WTA Tour has 8 Premier Mandatory tournaments. The men’s tour has a similar or greater number. Within those Premier Mandatory tournaments, there are also tournaments called Premier events. These tournaments are scattered throughout the season and while they are not mandatory, they go a far way in building ranking points for players. In addition to the Premier tournaments, there are also International events, which are similar in stature to the men’s 500 or 250s. They are not mandatory, but players can get a hit on their rankings or loss in prize money if they don’t at least play some of these International events. As the No. 1 ranked player in the world, Wozniacki has a responsibility not only to the WTA Tour, but also to herself. Tennis is her career. She plays tournaments to earn money and ranking points. Every season not only does she have to defend those ranking points in order to keep herself in the penthouse, but she also has to make sure that she stays ahead of the competition.
Wozniacki’s career is compared to that of Serena. Serena, even while she was No. 1 made the decision that rather than playing tournaments day in and day out, she would save her energy for the biggest stage, i.e. the Grand Slams. Critics of Serena often say well if she played a full schedule then perhaps she would not perform so well in the Slams. On the other hand you have players like Wozniacki who dedicate themselves to the day in and day out grind of the Tour. Not only does Woznaicki have to be the face of the Tour, she is also its chief spokesperson, sits on the Player’s Council and is a brand ambassador for Adidas. As Roger Federer, former No. 1 on the men’s tour will tell you, being No. 1 not only means occupying the penthouse, it also means a level of responsibility that is thrust upon one’s shoulder.
For years Nadal was a chasing player and you heard no complaints from him in relation to the grind of the tour. As soon as he got to No. 1 and had to defend that position, he started to complain. Credit to Woznaicki, but I am yet to read a quote of hers in which she has even expressed any notion that the season is too long or that it is an arduous task to commit to so many tournaments, or indeed to show up for the Premier Mandatories, unlike say Kim Clijsters who recently remarked that the Mandatory tournaments are a pain in the you know what and she preferred when she was not a top 10 player as she would not have to commit to those events.
It was not too long ago when there were critics of Clijsters for holding the No. 1 ranking without winning a Major. At that time her defenders stated that she was consistent and that she was nice and she was a great ambassador for the sport, especially with the Williams Sisters being MIA. Clijsters also defended her position as No.1. Now, her utterances, are for the most part about finding balance in her life and not playing a heavy schedule and winning Grand Slams, which at that time, did not seem to be a major flaw in her number of titles.
Does Wozniacki play too many tournaments? Some would say yes, and I would agree. It is ridiculous that she continues to play tournaments in the lead up to the Majors and then crash and burn at the first sign of a struggle.
It is unfortunate for Wozniacki that as talented as she is, she is playing in an era where there have been so many dominant champions who are still wielding a racquet and whose game has transformed the sport for all time. It does not help that one of her peers has finally been able to break through the pack and win herself a Major, while Wozniacki is still sitting in the penthouse surrounded by lesser titles.
I do believe that Wozniacki’s time will come. I don’t believe the criticism of her occupying the No. 1 spot is justified. She has earned her spot in the rankings. She does not need a Major to justify that position. She needs a Major to show the tennis world and herself that she is able to win the biggest tournaments. With her game as it is now and her schedule as jam packed as it is, I am not optimistic that this will happen, but for what it is worth, Wozniacki is a worthy No. 1 and a fit and proper person to lead the women’s tour based on her performance on the Tour.