Monday, April 12, 2010

Wk.14- Caroline, uh, On My Mind

With every big result Caroline Wozniacki posts, you can see a real, flesh-and-blood champion being built from the ground up.

Kinda, sort of.

A winner during her junior days, the 19-year old Dane has kept up the habit as a pro. She won three titles in 2008, then three more in '09. Her Ponte Vedra Beach title defense this weekend put her on course to match or exceed her previous three-times-a-lady runs in 2010, too. Unlike so many of her young counterparts on tour whose first notion is to simply aim and hit, Wozniacki knows what she's doing out there on the court (sometimes, even before her dad immigrates from the stands for a mini coaching session, too), even while it's still apparent that her game is a work in progress as she manages to continue to climb up the WTA ladder while trying to figure out how to get everything out of her talent.

Wozniacki's matches often have a certain "sameness" to them, and that's a testament to her. Never allowing herself to get too high or too low emotionally, no lead or deficit is ever "unworkable." Bad starts are almost always turned back in her favor, but easy 1st sets don't necesarily mean a quick straight sets victory is a given, either. Wozniacki's pet tactic of extending rallies with superb defense, even while usually eschewing the more dangerous aggression that comes so naturally to other teens who've risen up the rankings as quickly as C-Woz, usually means you're going to get your money's worth as a viewer or fan when it comes to match length. Ultimately, Wozniacki's gameplan means she'll play far longer matches on occasion that she probably should, but it also means she's usually going to win.

Largely because she sets up her opponents to defeat themselves, giving them just enough rope to hang their own chances, Wozniacki is the most consistent performer on tour. A true workhorse, she rarely ever loses to players she shouldn't. Forcing opponents to hit a sixth, seventh or eighth competent shot in a single point quite literally "separates the wheat from the chaff," as the vast majority of the WTA field isn't up to pulling off such a feat on an every-point, every-game, every-set basis when each shot begins to hold such meaning. Wozniacki's tenaciousness and level-headed mindset feast on any of her opponents' lingering doubts, shot-for-shot lack of uniformity/creativity and/or match-closing know-how (see Elena Vesnina and Olga Govortsova this weekend in PVB).

Consistency kills... but is it enough for her take the next step? And for the #2-ranked player in the world and one-time slam finalist, that step can be summed up with just one phrase: "grand slam champion."

Wozniacki's current gameplan works well enough. She's risen up the ranks with steady (and sometimes better) speed. Ponte Vedra Beach was her seventh career title, and her second successful title defense in the last nine months. Last season, she was only player to reach finals on four different surfaces (PVB was her first-ever clay final), and her green clay decider on Sunday ups her surface final total to two already in '10. But when Wozniacki goes up against the more seasoned champions on tour -- the Serena Williamses, Justine Henins and even Belgian Barbies, as last year's U.S. Open final showed -- her opponents have a better understanding of how to play those long, tension-filled points better, and they make a point to turn up their aggression and beat C-Woz to the punch in those long rallies where the teenager finds her comfort zone.

There's no need to totally change her game. Ask Jelena Jankovic, a similar type of defensive stalwart, how that sort of thing works out. But that doesn't mean that she can't learn how to pick her spots better when it comes to being more aggressive in her own right. Again, as JJ showed was possible in Indian Wells. One would like to see her try to do so more often against the players she's supposed to defeat, and hope that the muscle/mental memory will serve her well when she's up against the sport's elite stars, a group in which Wozniacki herself is trying to justify her inclusion. Would it be potentially dangerous to experiment more often? Sure, but the potential dividends would seem to be worth it. Look at Henin, who's trying to alter her game to fit her second career. Sometimes her less-familiar gameplan trips her up, as it's not her natural inclination to move forward, cut shots off and play the role of bull in a china shop. But she wants to win Wimbledon, and she believes that's how she has to do it... so she's willing to take the chance.

If Wozniacki wants to become a grand slam champion, not just a very good player who racks up titles everywhere but in the majors, she might have to take more chances, too. She's already shown a willingness to bend to that reality, visibly trying to take the offensive initiative at times, and the nerve she showed at last year's WTA Championships speaks well for her desire to be all that she can be. As she tries to bring that hybrid aspect to her game, there's no reason to think that her progress won't continue in 2010.

In fact, with Serena's schedule and knee somewhat iffy between now and Roland Garros, Wozniacki might have a shot at the #1 ranking this spring, though you sort of hope it doesn't happen before she can better prove herself worthy of such an honor. We've had enough Jankovic, Ivanovic and Safina-esque moments the last few years to openly hedge against, if not oppose, the elevation of ANY player, even one who SEEMS capable of handling the inherent pressures of such an accomplishment, into such a heightened arena of expectation and nitpicking before she's developed the armor, both on-court and off, to brush it aside and continue to want to get better. Really, other than the Williams Sisters, only Maria Sharapova has emerged in recent years with the fortitude and backbone to make such a situation work (and then her shoulder became the body part that stuck a wrench in the gears of Supernovic progress, so you NEVER know what'll happen).

"Problem" is, it's always hard to tell what Williams will do in Paris. Plus, Henin's game and match consistency might mean she won't automatically reassume her Roland Garros throne this June. The Other Belgian Not Named Yanina or Kirsten and clay courts don't necessarily always mesh, and the remaining potential contenders at the next slam are all either dealing with injuries, downturns in their results or precisely the type of emotional components that set Wozniacki apart because of her ability to NOT be brought down by them. C-Woz might just emerge from the pack in Paris, as she did in New York, and stake a legit claim for one of the four biggest prizes of the season.

But for all the accomplishments in her career, one that Wozniacki has yet to pull off is to win a title on RED clay (she reached two finals in '09). After playing this week on green clay in Charleston, she'll have until late May to attempt to remove that hole in her resume before play begins in Roland Garros. If she can fill it and check it off her career "To Do" list, she might head to the French as a co-favorite in the minds of some.

Maybe even mine.

"Caroline in the City... of Lights?" It could prove to be a story arc that proves triumphant in Paris. But no matter what the computer says, it's too soon to tell or fully believe in that potential reality.

Of course, that could change.


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA USA (Int'l $220K/green clay outdoor)
S: Caroline Wozniacki def. Olga Govortsova 6-2/7-5
D: Mattek-Sands/Yan d. Chuang/Peng

MARBELLA, SPAIN (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
S: Flavia Pennetta def. Carla Suarez-Navarro 6-2/4-6/6-3
D: Errani/Vinci d. Kondratieva/Shvedova

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Caroline Wozniacki/DEN
here's where I note some of the players that C-Woz defeated en route to her first Player of the Week crown of 2010... on the anniversary of her first '09 POW acknowledgement after winning Ponte Vedre Beach (the week of the "famed" first-ever Double Headline Backspin). The likes of players named Schnyder, Arvidsson and Pavlyuchenkova were swept aside, while Vesnina (up 4-2 in the 3rd, one year after holding four MP in PVB before losing to C-Woz) and Govortosva (up 4-1 in the 2nd) took a bit more work. There, now that's done. What I really wanted to note here was what has sort of become known as Wozniacki's seemingly natural on-court calmness. This weekend, that notion was proven to NOT be totally natural at all. During a couple bad stretches in the SF and Final, Wozniacki was seen to throw her racket at the ground once, and attack the net with a few aggressive strokes after missing an easy shot. Of course, in C-Woz's case, she got her frustration out of her system, put it in a mental lockbox and went on to win both matches. In a way, it's a realization such as this that makes the world #2's ability to find her way through sometimes-murky match waters all the more impressive. Contrast that with what a player such Victoria Azarenka often does -- let her anger fester until it becomes volcanic, then often go down in flames. It's interesting that both were #1 seeds last week. While Wozniacki defended her PVB title, Azarenka retired in the QF in Marbella. (Yep, I'm going to try to link these two in the ongoing WTA plotline even if it kills me.)
RISERS: Olga Govortsova/BLR & Carla Suarez-Navarro/ESP
armed with a serve that has the ability to provide her some very nice future results, Govortsova nonetheless failed to get her first tour title (she's now 0-3 in WTA finals) in Ponte Vedra Beach. She was unable to push the final against Wozniacki to a 3rd set despite being up 4-1 in the 2nd. Still, wins over '09 PVB runner-up Alona Bondarenko and Dominika Cibulkova (who nearly came back ala C-Woz from a big deficit) are enough to make her a player who's progress needs to be watched, assuming she can eliminate her nasty habit of squandering big advantages. CSN, too, is still looking for her first tour singles title (for the record, I'd picked both Suarez-Navarro and Govortsova to become first-time champs in '10 in my preseason predictions -- so while I wholeheartedly endorse both of this week's titlists, I still have to consider Week 14 something of a double near-miss). With wins over Roberta Vinci, Polona Hercog, Tatjana Malek and Maria Jose Martinez-Sanchez, the Spaniard managed to match her result from a year ago this weekend. In 2009, she lost the Marbella final to Jelena Jankovic, and her three-set loss on Sunday to Flavia Pennetta leaves her 0-2 in career tour finals.
SURPRISES: Beatriz Garcia-Vidagany/ESP & Anna Tatishvili/GEO
raise your hand if you knew anything about Garcia-Vidagany before last week? (Her name was vaguely familiar to me from winning a few ITF titles last season, but I couldn't help but say "who the crap is 'Garcia'" when I saw that she'd knocked off the Belgian Barbie in the 2nd Round in Marbella last week). I mean, the 21-year old was the #12-ranked SPANIARD on the computer when play began. BGV DID manage to get on the radar a few days earlier, though, when her qualifying run included a nice win over Alicia Molik, but one wonders just how much Last Week's Miami Champion knew about her. Garcia-Vidagany, the world #258, also got a 1st Round win over Kristina Barrois before eventually losing to Sara Errani in the QF, but her big week will surely be brought up again when all the "Upset of the (whatever time period it happens to be)" talk in stirred up the rest of this season. Three or four years ago, Tatishvili was considered a young player to watch. Her progress has been slow, though. But she reached a career-high ranking of #150 in March, and the 20-year old Georgian (as in the former Soviet republic, not the Peach State) has recently had some results that make one want to take notice again. In PV Beach, she qualified with wins over Michelle Larcher de Brito and Michaella Krajicek, then got a main draw victory over Magdalena Rybarikova. Govortsova eventually knocked her out in the 2nd Round.
COMEBACKS: Elena Vesnina/RUS & Mirjana Lucic/CRO
a year ago, Vesnina held four match points against Wozniacki in the PVB semifinals, only to lose the match and watch C-Woz take the title. This time around, she led the Dane 4-2 in the SF in PVB, only to lose and watch C-Woz take the title again. Hey, aren't you "John Locke"... or is it Titus Welliver? (And if you get that one, then you know I had to get it in before next month for it to be a relevant reference, and I just did.) The Russian, who reached two finals in '09, retired from a match in Tokyo against Jelena Jankovic last October. Counting that loss, she'd gone just 4-9 in main draw tour matches since. Maybe this PVB result, in which she notched three victories alone, will turn things back in her favor. At least she didn't stomp around the court like a Shakespearean character in need of a soliloquy like she did in PVB last year. That's a start. The REAL comeback star of Week 14, however, was Lucic. You remember her, right? Back in 1997, the Croat was one of now just six players (including names like Austin, Henin and Srebotnik) who became champions in their WTA singles debut, winning at home in Bol, Croatia at barely 15 years old (still in the Top 5 for youngest-ever champs). She won a small ITF event in Croatia, then defended that Bol title a year later. In May '98, she was the #32-ranked player in the world. In 1999, she ended the season in the Top 50 on the strength of her stunning semifinal run at Wimbledon (along with qualifier Alexandra Stevenson, who defeated qualifier Jelena Dokic in the QF in definitively the craziest SW19 ever). Since then, she's been a poster child for what's often wrong with tennis and parenting, but also how a series of bad breaks don't mean that a player need give up (maybe, the soon-to-be-Mrs. Stepanek should realize that). From 2002-09, Lucic's year-end ranking never inched into the Top 200. With one slam main draw win since 2001, Lucic made Dokic's "slide" since her shocking introduction to much of the tennis world seen like a picnic. But, after a few years of bouncing around the ITF challenger circuit with only modest success to spur her on, Lucic came (back) into her own this weekend in the $25K event in Jackson, Mississippi. The now 28-year old, #240-ranked player defeated Jamie Hampton 7-5/6-3 in the final to earn her first singles title of any kind since 1998, and her first ever outside the borders of Croatia.
VETERANS: Flavia Pennetta/ITA & Renata Voracova/CZE
a week after winning the Miami doubles title with Gisela Dulko, the 28-year old Pennetta got her recently-flagging singles game back in form in Marbella. With wins over Yaroslava Shvedova, Laura Pous Tio, Simona Halep, Sara Errani and Suarez-Navarro, she upped her career tour singles title total to nine (tying her on the active list with the likes of Nadia Petrova and Anabel Medina-Garrigues). In the $25K challenger in Civitavecchia, Italy, 26-year old Czech Voracova grabbed a title after manuevering her way past Julia Schruff, Zuzana Ondraskova and Anna Floris in the final.
FRESH FACES: Varvara Lepchenko/USA & Tian Ran/CHN
the Uzbekistan-born American Lepchenko, 23, entered the PV Beach draw as a Lucky Loser after losing to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in qualifying. But she made the most of her opportunity, defeating Mariana Duque-Marino and Angelique Kerber to reach her first career tour QF. Tian, 16, most recently was mentioned here after the Girls #85 lost in back-to-back junior events to Girls #3 Irina Khromacheva. But with the Russian nowhere to be found in the $10K pro challanger event in Ningbo, China, Tian won her first pro title, defeating countrywoman Zheng Saisai 6-2/6-3 in the final.
DOWN: Jada's Traditionally Clay Court-Resistant Mom/BEL & Sabine Lisicki/GER
the Champagne Gifter came into Marbella having not played a match on clay since her last outing before her retirement in Warsaw during the spring of '07. In fact, going into last week, that loss to Julia Vakulenko was her only clay match since she lost the 2006 Roland Garros semifinal to Justine Henin. She got her first clay win in almost four years, but went down in three sets in the 2nd Round to Spain's Beatriz Garcia-Vidagany, the #258th-ranked player in the world. Meanwhile, Lisicki didn't play last week. That's not exactly news, but the announcement that her ankle is still too injured to even allow her to attempt to defend her Charleston title this week is more than a crushing blow to the belief that her battles with her health are anywhere near reaching a conclusion.
ITF PLAYER: Mona Barthel/GER
the German, 19, qualified for and won the $50K challenger in Torhout, Belgium. Her list of vanquished foes included Bojana Jovanovski, Kathrin Woerle, Stephanie Dubois, Yulia Fedossova and Rebecca Marino in the final. It's Barthel's second ITF title this season.
JUNIOR STAR: Krista Hardebeck/USA
the 15-year old American won the USTA International Spring Championships in Carson, California. After defeated top-seeded Katarena Paliivets of Canada, Hardebeck defeated Sachia Vickery 0-6/6-3/6-2 in the final.

1. Marb 2nd Rd - Garcia-Vidagany d. The Only Belgian Whose '10 Results are More Rollercoaster-y Than Justine's
See, I knew the Siren's call to pick you-know-who to win in Marbella was a trap, a blatant should-have-known-better path to destruction (note to self). Seriously, though, as sometimes-rough as Henin's path has been on occasion this season, her countrywoman's has been positively crazy. She's gone from Brisbane champ to Melbourne bust to MSG/Indian Wells choker to Miami champ to being being bounced by the #258 player in the world who was an even more obscure conquerer than her ranking would insist. Brian's Wife showed some service cracks against Henin in Miami, and they showed up again here. She tossed in eight double-faults in the match. As of now, though, she didn't react to this clay loss the same way she did her last -- which was to immediately retire from the sport.
2. PVB SF - Wozniacki d. Vesnina
This one, a rematch of last year's PVB SF, was simply "Classically Caroline." At first, she looked out of it in the 1st. In the 2nd, she gradually worked her way into the match, edging out the Russian in the 2nd set by taking the tie-break. Watching this match live on Saturday afternoon, it was at this point that I said that this is the sort of match that usually ends with Wozniacki winning a tight 6-4 set. True to form, she fell behind 4-2 (not as dangerous as those four match points Vesnina had in '09, but still), never let up, allowed Vesnina to make just enough mistakes to lose by making her hit a few extra shots each point, and won the deciding set by a 6-4 score. Oh, if only the Belgians could be so predictable.
3. PVB Final - Wozniacki d. Govortsova
This was Wozniacki's fourteenth career final (already, and she's still not yet 20). In the 2nd set, C-Woz fell behind 4-1 as she was being out-served by the more aggressive Govortsova. Then, as the 2nd set progressed, the Dane worked her way into this one the same way she always does -- by extending rallies and making the Belarusian hit two or three extra shots to win a point (that's that not-so-bad "sameness" I was talking about earlier). After tightening things up on the scoreboard with a break, every point became ultra-important, so C-Woz turned the screws on Govortsova's psyche, with everything coming to a head in the tenth game of the set. Serving for the set at 5-4, Govortsova used her serve (especially a stinging wide shot to the Ad court that continually got Wozniacki off balance and allowed Govortsova to gain control of the point) to great effect. She had two set points. But Wozniacki's tactics brought out whatever tension existed in her opponent's game, and those few extra shots each point continued to frustrate Govortosova, who'd manage to miss one of the them and push the game to deuce yet again. In all, there were eight deuce points in the game, and Wozniacki put away the break on her seventh break chance of the game when Govortsova's serve finally cracked under the pressure and she threw in a double-fault on BP. With her opponent unable to escape her disappointment, the last two games went pretty quickly for C-Woz. Another Govortsova DF gave her a match point, and a weak Govortsova error ended things a few moments later. Wozniacki's seventh career title ties her with Anna Chakvetadze on the active list... which sort of tells you that nothing is definitive, even after a young player notches one more than half a dozen titles. In other words, C-Woz's work must continue unabated.
4. Marb Final - Pennetta d. Suarez-Navarro
Just when you think you can disregard Pennetta as a potential champion, Madame Butterfly takes flight. Even in what would be considered an "off" season so far for the veteran, she's been a Fed Cup star and reached two tour finals.
5. Marb 1st Rd - Citizen's Latest Watch Saleswoman d. Dulgheru
This was her first clay court win since 2006, but the tightness of the score should have been a sign of what came next.
6. PVB QF - Vesnina d. Oudin
Oudin went 4-0 versus Hordettes during her QF run at the U.S. Open last summer. So far in 2010, she's sporting a 0-4 mark against Russians. Payback can be a b-... eautifully symmetrical thing.
7. Marb QF - Martinez-Sanchez d. Azarenka
...4-0 ret.
Thigh strain. Has Azarenka's season jerked into an irreversible U-turn over the last month? Charleston might be suddenly very important for her.
8. Charleston Q1 - Ziyas d. Karatantcheva
Home-grown Kazakh defeats Imported/Borrowed/Layaway Plan Kazakh.
9. Charleston Q1 - Ivanova d. Stevenson
As noted before, the Tennis Gods DO have a sense a humor. How else to you explain that on the same weekend that surprise '99 Wimbledon semifinalist Lucic wins her first title in a dozen years in Mississippi, surprise '99 Wimbledon semifinalist Alexandra Stevenson was double-bageled just a few states away in South Carolina?

**2010 WTA FINALS**
3...Elena Dementieva, RUS (2-1)
3...Venus Williams, USA (2-1)
2...Justine's Countrywoman, BEL (2-0)
2...Serena Williams, USA (1-1)
2...Justine Henin, BEL (0-2)

[by recent season]
2005: 14 (RUS-6, CZE-5, IND-1, NED-1, SRB-1)
2006: 17 (RUS-7, ISR-3, CZE-2, NED-2, AUT-1, SRB-1, USA-1)
2007: 10 (SRB-3, FRA-2, HUN-2, RUS-2, POL-1)
2008: 8 (DEN-3, POL-3, FRA-1, ROU-1)
2009: 11 (BLR-3, DEN-3, BEL-2, CZE-1, GER-1, ROU-1)
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, RUS - 18y,8m (Monterrey)

2...FLAVIA PENNETTA (hard/red clay)
2...Venus Williams (hard/red clay)
2...CAROLINE WOZNIACKI (hard/green clay)

3...Venus Williams, USA
2...Serena Williams, USA
1...Elena Dementieva, RUS
1...Jelena Jankovic, SRB
1...Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP
1...Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA
1...Vera Zvonareva, RUS

[extended with 2010 title]
8 years - Maria Sharapova, 2003-10
5 years - Elena Dementieva, 2006-10
4 years - Jelena Jankovic, 2007-10
4 years - FLAVIA PENNETTA, 2007-10
4 years - Serena Williams, 2007-10
4 years - Venus Williams, 2007-10
3 years - Vera Zvonareva, 2008-10
3 years - CAROLINE WOZNIACKI, 2008-10
[streaks not yet extended with 2010 title]
6 years - Anabel Medina-Garrigues, ESP (2004-09)
3 years - Dinara Safina, RUS (2007-09)

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA USA (Premier $700K/green clay outdoor)
09 Final: Lisicki d. Wozniacki
10 Top Seeds: Wozniacki/Jankovic

Wozniacki d. Petrova
Zvonareva d. Azarenka
Bartoli d. Stosur
Jankovic d. Hantuchova
Wozniacki d. Zvonareva
Bartoli d. Jankovic
Wozniacki d. Bartoli

...even though this one's on green clay rather than red, this might be a real litmus test for a slew of "second-choices" for potential Roland Garros champion in a few months. Neither Serena nor Justine is here, nor is Dementieva, but most of the rest of the potential Paris breakthrough players are. C-Woz is the most in-form player, but three finals in her last three events might be one too many for even the tour's most workhorse player. JJ won on hard courts, but can she move her resurgence to the clay? Zvonareva has a lot of demons to contend with one year after the ankle injury that occurred in Charleston. Last week, Caroline got the Backspin Picks segment back on track after its unscheduled "sabbatical" in March, so I'll go with her again.

BARCELONA, SPAIN (Int'l $220K/red clay outdoor)
09 Final: Vinci d. Kirilenko
10 Top Seeds: Schiavone/Rezai

Kirilenko d. Suarez-Navarro
Errani d. Safarova
Kirilenko d. Errani

...these small clay tournaments can be so unpredictable. Kirilenko reached the final a year ago, so maybe she'll go one more this time around. But any draw with the which-side-of-the-bed-did-she-wake-up-on-this-morning? Safarova in it could be flipped on its ear at any given moment.

Next: It's time for an accounting, as "The Taxman Cometh" on ATP Backspin next -- with a "Player of the Year (so far)" update.

All for now.


Blogger Will said...

Wozniacki reached a red clay final at Madrid last year, no?

Mon Apr 12, 08:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

Thank you for a very good analysis of Caroline's streghts and weaknesses.

She did reach finals on red clay in both Madrid and Bastad in 2009, though, but lost them both, so she still hasn't won one. She's scheduled to play Stuttgart, Rome, Madrid and Warzaw before RG, so chances are she'll get that done (probably in Warzaw). On the other hand, she is likely to be pretty exhausted before RG, just as has been the case the last two years. Like you say, she has a habit of playing/winning a lot of long matches, which takes its toll especially on clay.

Therefore, I actually like her chances better at Wimbledon, and if she were to beat, say, Serena in the final and reach No. 1 in the rankings, that would be awesome.

Tue Apr 13, 07:07:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Thanks for catching the red clay final thing for Wozniacki. I don't know how I let that one get by. Hello, I even said she reached finals on FOUR different surfaces in '09 -- which would have to have been hard, grass, green and RED clay.

And here I was just thinking I'd avoided any errors like that for a long while. Grrr... I guess I'm back to toting around a "one day sober" marker again.

I did change that line to read that she hasn't WON a title on red clay. :)

Jeppe... there's just one thing that raises my doubts for such a SW19 run for Wozniacki, and you mentioned it -- Serena. Or Venus. I can't see her ever beating either one there. If someone else did it for her, I could see her being part of the equation, though (not that there are too many players with the goods to pull it off... that's why every Wimbledon discussion has to begin and end with Venus and Serena). Of course, that just means she's pretty much in the same boat as everyone else in the draw not named Williams.

Tue Apr 13, 12:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Karen said...

I could list 10 reasons why Wozniacki will not win a Grand Slam, and in particular Wimbledon:-
1. No serve
2. No volleys
3. No aggression
4. Pitiful excuse for a second serve
5. Cannot make adjustments on court mid-match
6. Does not possess the fire power of the top tier in women's tennis
7. Has no offense/defence, i.e. instead of moonballs, perhaps a slice or two
8. No effective kill shot. I know her BHDTL is her best shot but she is unable to get in the right position most of the time to hit it convincingly to end points
9. No forehand - you cannot win majors without a forehand. Just ask her compatriot on the men's side, Andy Murray.
10. As long as there are players who can out serve, outhit, out winner, out maneouver and basically out play her in the top 10, she will not win a major.

Wed Apr 14, 12:50:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Well, since Anastasia Myskina has "grand slam champion" in her career bio, anything is possible. :)

But, yeah, as long as there are players like Serena around she won't beat HER to win a slam. But taking Wimbledon out of the equation, where both Sisters are ridiculous roadblocks, only Sharapova, Henin and the Belgian Barbie have proven themselves mentally capable of winning a slam (well, other than Kuznetsova every five years or so). All are question marks at at least one slam, and many of the players with bigger weapons have time and time again proved to have other issues above the neck that get in the way.

Wozniacki winning a slam one day isn't a given. And, obviously, she has to improve areas of her game to be considered a true threat on an every-slam basis. But in a sport that sees so many talented players never reach their full potential because of so many things that have nothing to do with the technical aspects of their games, a player that shows heart and consistently beats the players she's supposed to is always a threat to at least be in position if the opportunity presents itself.

Wozniacki could be that player, or maybe not. If she were to meet, say, Safina, for example, in a slam final, I'd take C-Woz without a second thought, no matter that Safina's game seems more slam worthy. Roland Garros, where the power players' weapons are at least neutralized a bit, would seem to be her best opportunity. Of course, the same could be said for Jankovic, yet both of them have reached U.S. Open finals.

Of course, I admit to a leaning toward players who show heart and desire, and maybe sometimes give them slightly more future potential than they might deserve if looked at with a more clinical, shot-for-shot eye. I always have. Sure, Serena's game has always been huge, but I still think her heart and desire are what have made her a champion. It's certainly the case with Henin, too. The game is loaded with talented players who haven't won squat (Hantuchova, say, who was touted as a future #1 years ago), and I've always chosen to get on the bandwagon of players with something "inside" that can push them past the line of what they "should" accomplish. I just think Wozniacki's got a bit of that in her, and I'll continue to believe it until proven otherwise. And she's (hopefully) got a lot of time to get things right.

Wed Apr 14, 01:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Karen said...

Well Todd, I admire your optimism. The first time I saw Wozniacki was when she was winning a little tournament in Las Vegas manhandling a Japanese player. In the 3 or 4 years since I have seen her play that match the only thing that has improved is her mental toughness. Unfortunately for her, her game is the same as it was 3-4 years ago. I have watched her for the past 2 years at the majors level and the premier mandatory level and while she has been having a breakout season, she has yet to bag a premier mandatory title. When Jankovic can basically channel her inner Serena and beat Wozniacki like she stole something it just makes me a tad depressed when I hear people saying that this girl will win majors. I used to be a bit of a fan but slowly but surely I am getting off the bandwagon. I told myself this year that I refuse to waste my time on headcases. Did that for the last 15 years with Nalbandian on the men's side and got disappointed. Did it also on the women's side already and not about to start again.

Wed Apr 14, 05:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

Ouch, Karen, that's a bit harsh. I admit Caroline looked rather clueless in that IW final against JJ, but aside from that she has raised her game and played better than ever, lately. Her game is still far from perfect, and the No. 2 ranking is flattering, all things considered, but nevertheless she has somehow managed to win more matches and reach more major finals (GS and PM) than anyone else over the last 12 months. And a "headcase" she's certainly not.

I just checked the odds by the way: The bookmakers have Caroline at 11-1 to win RG, and 17-1 to win Wimbledon behind Serena 3-1, Venus 4-1, Henin 6-1, Clijsters 7-1, Sharapova 11-1, Azarenka 14-1 and Dementieva 15-1. (In comparison, Sarah Palin is 15-1 to win the next Presidential Election...) So she IS a long shot, but never say never, I say.

Thu Apr 15, 05:01:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Karen said...

Todd, if she wins a major this year, I will not only send you a bag of premium Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, but I will send you a bottle of my very own Appleton Special (and those are some good things). Do you know why I do not think that Wozniacki will win a major - apart from the 10 items I listed previously. There is no on-court coaching allowed at the majors. For all her mental toughness, having her father come on court on every change over to whisper (or shout) in her ear tells me everything I need to know. When you have to have your father out to demonstrate to you what you need to do on the court rather than trying to figure it out for yourself - nope. That is what undid Safina and that is what will also undo Wozniacki. The inability to do anything when faced with an elite player who has always had to think outside the box in order to get the win. Those who win Grand Slams are those who are able to dig deep inside themselves and find that little extra. You only have to look back at this year' AO and how Serena channelled her inner super woman to know what I am talking about.

Thu Apr 15, 07:40:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Hey, Karen--I "broke up" with David a year or so ago myself. But sometimes I miss him...

Thu Apr 15, 08:48:00 AM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

wow enthusiastic reponses here.

i am split with my comments on Caro. i think a lot of ppl likes her for her image and her age and that she represents something of WTA future. i don't think that should be the reason to pump her up. actually i don't like players with 'too good' looks, it gets distracted easily and rather should look for personality to rise to the top. with that point, caro has a bit in her, am impressed with her relentless not to give up in any match, there makes her harder to beat. consistency is a virtue now becos it's getting rare. these 2 advantages will get her in top 10 (or 5) no doubt. but she is really missing that something extra. the extra courage, the extra risk taking, the extra weapon we all say (and you really can't take risk when you don't have weapons). something extraordinary that you would sigh or scream with few games she plays. that's not there yet, and kinda makes it not as fun to watch her games. she might still win a slam, who knows. there are a few one/two slams wonders right now, and she is not far off. but unless she puts in effort to change her game, she is not the NEXT to inherit from williams or henin's last decade of dominance.

Thu Apr 15, 10:56:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Karen said...

Diane, he has been playing superbly in Monte Carlo this week. Whenever I watch him play I try to be objective and just watch his strokes, but man I just cannot help but wonder about what might have been. I broke up with him a few years ago myself but it is so tempting to want to go back - LOL

As to Woz, I watched the first set of her match against Patty but score board the rest as I had to leave home. She seems to have these second set meltdowns. She started out very strong yesterday, stepping into the court and taking the ball early (as early as she can anyway) and she hit some clean winners on the backhand side. I do not know what happened in the second set but the score seemed to suggest that it was a battle. When I watched the first set her forehand you could tell she was trying to flatten it out but it still came off with the loopy shot. Against Patty who is the queen of the loopy shots she was able to use it to get back into position but against people like the Serenas of this world who step inside the court, do not lose their court positions and are aggressive as dickens, they will usually just come in and slam those balls away because they see those balls more for a swing volley type hit rather than let it bounce and start the rally at neutral. Woz will be 70% of the women's tour with that game but she will not beat those aggressive players with it and that is why she has problems against them.

Fri Apr 16, 07:35:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Who knew... all this over lil' ol' Caroline Wozniacki. :D

I understand where you're coming from, Karen. Once you get frustrated with players it's hard to invest any hope in any of them who have any traits that are similar and send up red flags that history might repeat itself. Ah, but sticking with a player through thick-and-thin -- as I did years ago with Jana Novotna -- and having it work out in the end... there's nothing more fun.

But while questions about Wozniacki's game preventing her from winning a slam are valid, I don't think she's a head case. Yes, Wozniacki is no Serena. But Serena IS something of a superwoman. She's an exceptional case, and most every player will always look far smaller in comparison to her. But even she isn't going to play forever. Wozniacki's almost a decade younger than the Sisters, and the Belgians are in their late twenties and have already both retired once. Soon, the players in their late teens/early twenties are going to be the leaders of the game, and at this point Wozniacki looks more level-headed, not prone to panic and less likely to implode than any of that bunch. The players who'll thrive, barring the appearance of another game-changing talent (though it's hard to imagine any player will match Serena's presence for quite a while), will be the ones who can keep things in perspective and not emotionally swing up and down every other week. That at least SOUNDS like Wozniacki. It should eventually could for something.

Wozniacki had a bad day, and JJ a very good one, in Indian Wells, but it speaks to something about both of them to see what they've done since. Jankovic has had two disappointing results, while C-Woz has reached the Miami QF (losing to Henin), won PVB and is in the Charleston SF.


Fri Apr 16, 06:46:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I think what you were talking about concerning Wozniacki's tendency to slip in 2nd sets was a good example of what I was talking about in this post. I was watching that Schnyder match, and the one with Petrova today, and both matches showed some of the strengths and weaknesses of Wozniacki, and how she can improve her game just by sticking to the type of mindset that allowed her to take the 1st set. In the 2nd set against Schnyder, while Schnyder also started playing better, Wozniacki herself became more defensive and didn't take the initiative as she did earlier in the match (yeah, it's not like she's ever as aggressive as a Serena, but that will never be the soul of her game, but for C-Woz it was obvious that she was trying to do a little more), which only helped Schnyder get back into it. Today with Petrova, against a player with more power and the ability to take the game out of her hands, Wozniacki DID serve harder at times and tried to do more. It worked. Petrova being Petrova, the practice of making her consistently hit shots worked, too, and led to a 6-3/6-4 win. My fact here being that Wozniacki CAN do more with her serve (ESPN's commentators noted both days how just by lowering her toss a bit she'd be able to put more on her serve consistently), it's just a case of her being willing to do it more often. As you said, she often wins matches now by playing the same way she did as a junior. Fortunately (or unfortunately?), the vast majority of the women's field allows her to do that and win anyway. The book on how to beat her is clear, even if doing so isn't always so black-and-white and/or easy. And if she continues to be reluctant to press the issue a bit more at times, making her less susceptible to players who will pounce on her serve or use aggression to snatch control of a point, she'll never develop enough "push back" from her side of the net to be able to consistently compete against a Serena, Safina-on-a-good-day, Henin, etc. and she's already topped out. That's her challenge this year, next year and the next -- to change that perception of her game and, in the end, the reality of it, as well.

Her fitness is definitely improved from a year ago, and that's a good initial step. A player needn't necessarily have a "WOW" shot to win a slam, or at least be in the mix on a regular basis. I mean, look at Sanchez-Vicario. Albeit at a time which was just at the start of the big-hitting era (though, arguably, one with more intelligent play), she reached #1 and won multiple slams while playing against a generation of players that included Graf, Seles, etc. Her biggest asset were her legs and heart. While Wozniacki, in both cases, might not stand up on either of those categories against ASV (though the latter one is still in play, I think), they're not weaknesses, either.

Cont'd (darn these comment character counts :(...

Fri Apr 16, 06:50:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

Your point about the lack of coaching at the slams is a good one, and one I hadn't considered. Wozniacki does seem to always pick up things in the games following her dad's courtside visits. But one can also say that that shows how coachable she seems to be, which should also speak well for her ability to improve her game over the next couple of seasons (we forget she's not even 20 yet) since it's plainly apparent what the areas are that she needs improve in to compete for major titles. Also, as long as a thorough gameplan for the match is put together beforehand, she would seem capable of following through on it. And remember, even players who are considered mentally tough (like, say, Henin) are always looking to their coaches in the stands for support/info. I know I wondered about where Wozniacki's head might be in crunch time a year ago, but ever since the SEC I've always found myself going back to how she gutted through her physical difficulties to win matches there. Right or wrong, it's instilled in me the belief that as breezy as her personality seems at time, she does want success enough to do everything she can to make it possible, and she seems to have the support system to keep her grounded. Of course, even if she does improve everything in her game and maxes out, that doesn't mean she's destined to win a slam. The sports history tells us that that is never the case with any player.

But I'm still going to hold on to the hope that a player who's shown an ability to never give up, a general lack of stubbornness, and a willingness to improve will eventually put things together enough that they will have a shot at reaching one of the sport's four pinnacles one day. Some day. Otherwise, there'd be no fun in watching and hoping for players to become all that they can be. Plus, I sort of bat around the Belgian Barbie enough to satiate my pessimistic side. :)

That said, Karen, I really don't think Wozniacki will win a slam in 2010 without some odd happenings taking place in the draw (truthfully, if she's anywhere close to healthy heading into Paris, I really think Serena's got a chance for a true Grand Slam, which would totally flip the script on a season with so many big names in action together for the first time in ages). But that won't keep me from hoping to be on the right side of such a coffee exchange. :D

Oh, and Jeppe... don't scare me with little notes like that about Palin. Sheesh. If Mattel puts out an Alaskan Barbie, complete with speech notes scribbled on her palm, then we're all doomed. Doomed, I say! :D

(Here's where I should say that Wozniacki, sort of like SP, can at least see a slam title from her house, since she's been in a final... but I don't really think that would give my argument any more legs.)

The end... finally. I should have just put up an new post.

Fri Apr 16, 06:52:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Karen said...

LOL Todd that was a great post. I will re-read and give you a response later today.

Sat Apr 17, 07:04:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Jeppe said...

... and then she goes and twists her ancle. That figures. Hope she'll be okay.

Sat Apr 17, 02:47:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd Spiker said...

I'm not taking the blame for C-Woz's injury. We have to SHARE it for talking about her so much. :)

Yeah, the ankle looked bad (as in for the day, and the next week or two, which she should have skipped anyway), but not THAT bad (like Zvonareva's last year). Thankfully for her, she was running toward the ball, skidded forward and then her weight went over the top of her foot, rather than one of those scrambling-in-the-back-of-the-court and cutting sharply ankle turns that can sometimes be really, really bad.

Of course, looks can be deceiving. I broke a bone in my foot in a similar way while playing basketball once, and ended up being in a cast for six weeks. It was good for her to stop when she did and not risk making things even worse (call it the Belgian Barbie Initiative, as in when she went back out and played after injuring her wrist before the U.S. Open in '06, then fell and injured it even worse and didn't play in NYC again until last year).

Sat Apr 17, 05:29:00 PM EDT  
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