Wozniacki: Tennis’ No. 1 Non-Loser

From my column on AOL Fanhouse

MELBOURNE, Australia — Caroline Wozniacki, No. 1 tennis player in the world, had just completed another non-loss to Francesca Schiavone – the only way to describe Wozniacki’s victories – when she was immediately put on the defensive about it.

Schiavone had hit 41 winners, she was told, and you had only 14. Schiavone also made almost all of the unforced errors, meaning she took all the chances.

Can you be the No. 1 player when the other player is taking all the initiative?

“I just want to know who won the match,” Wozniacki snipped. “I think I did that … If I still win the match, that’s the most important thing in the end.”

Wozniacki did get the victory, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, to advance to the semis of the Australian Open. But there is reason she has to defend herself. It’s because of this: she isn’t the best player, and hasn’t even shown she’s among the top five. Serena Williams is the best, but she isn’t here, still nursing a foot injury that happened somehow, someway. She’s not saying.

The year’s first major, without Serena, throws all of women’s tennis up for the taking. It’s the great opportunity. The question is this:

Is anyone willing to take it?

No. 2 is Vera Zvonareva, who has reached the final of the past two majors, and then gotten nervous, and clobbered. She is my pick. Li Na could be the first Chinese player to win a major and bring in a ton of fans in a market tennis keeps trying to mine.

Kim Clijsters, winner of the past two U.S. Opens, is the favorite, and the only one who can win without people saying, “Sure, but Serena wasn’t there.”

But the moment falls mostly on Wozniacki, No. 1 without having won a major. In 2010, she didn’t even reach a major final.

And when she snaps back about who won the match, she is right. She was the victor. But while her style is responsible for her high ranking and wins totals, it’s also the same reason she hasn’t won a major.

It has kept her from validation.

Wozniacki might well be in position to be the next noticeable star of women’s tennis. The game will need someone when the Williams sisters leave.

She has the good looks that get a lot of male non-tennis fans watching. She also has been drawing attention here for her oddball news conferences.

In one, she said someone had told her that the media said she is boring, always giving the same answers. Well, she said, she always gets the same questions. So she prepared a list of questions she knew were coming, and answered them.

In one press conference, she explained the bandage on her ankle came after she had gone to a park and seen “this kangaroo lying there … It was lying there so I wanted to go over there and help it out.”

Then, the kangaroo attacked.

Later, she returned to the media room and apologized for making up the story, saying she was joking, and figured the kangaroo’s story was so preposterous that no one would believe it. What really happened, she said, was that she had walked into a treadmill.

“That’s my blonde sometimes,” she said. “That happens.”

After her match with Schiavone, Wozniacki showed up with a large yellow kangaroo balloon. She put on boxing gloves and boxed with the thing, which she called “Skippy,” then “Fluffy.”

 

It all seems made up to me, but it is getting notice. Now she’s going to have to learn how to win a major. 

It will take a weapon. Wozniacki’s style is to run around like crazy and not miss. She is a human backboard, but she doesn’t hit hard enough to hit winners. She has no serve or forehand.

The plan is to wait for her opponent to miss. So her matches against the best players tend to be in the control of her opponents.

It worked Tuesday, as Schiavone was coming off the longest match in women’s major championship history, 4 hours, 44 minutes. Against Wozniacki, she ran out of gas. Wozniacki doesn’t actively go win a match; she just doesn’t lose them.

Someone asked her to talk about the joy of playing defense instead of offense.

“I think it’s important to do both,” she said. “I think I can read the game pretty well, and I’m running pretty well.

“That’s also why the opponents sometimes feel like they have to play more on the lines and sometimes go for things a bit more, and also make mistakes, because they feel the pressure. My game is to win.”

Not the best opponents in the biggest matches. You cannot count on Serena or Clijsters to give you two sets in a major.

But Serena doesn’t play enough non-majors to score enough computer rankings points to be No. 1.

Wozniacki’s non-losses get her enough points in non-majors to get that non-No. 1 ranking.

She can change some of that here. If she’s ever going to non-lose a major, it’s now.

Please follow me on Twitter @gregcouch

 

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

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