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 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.