We’ve probably seen the end of Kim Clijsters, who tore ligaments and severely sprained her right ankle over the weekend while dancing at a wedding. She had been looking for an out again anyway, just hanging around for next year’s Olympics.
We’ve seen the end of Justine Henin, who retired again in January, blaming an injury.
And I wonder if we’ve gotten all we’ll get from Serena Williams, too. She has been out for almost a year, first with a mysterious foot injury and – in my opinion – lack of interest. Now, she deals with a blood clot in her lungs.
Clijsters was the news of the day, overshadowing another tournament win by Caroline Wozniacki, who continues as No. 1 even though no one thinks she’s the best. She beat Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-3 to win the Family Circle Cup.
But what happened when Clijsters got hurt was this: The deck instantly reshuffled on the women’s tour. The game has lost all willing and able champions.
This is her moment. Proof is what we’ve needed from her for a while now, certainly since she took the No. 1 spot in the rankings. By that, I mean she has to win a major.
She has to win now, and not so much for herself, but for the tour. Women’s tennis has a sudden and serious lack of star power, though Maria Sharapova could fix that by finding her serve.
Everyone is cleared out of Wozniacki’s way.
But what’s the rush? She’s only 20, and is going to be at, or near, the top for years. She could be great for the game. Fun to watch, marketable good looks, serious craving for attention. Wozniacki would like to be the new Sharapova.
To me, the problem is that she’s not a champion. Instead, she comes off as someone good enough to beat all non-champions, all the time. There’s a big difference.
A few weeks ago, defensive about criticism that she’s No. 1 without a major, Wozniacki thought she was making good point. She said criticism of her is an insult to everyone else. If she isn’t great, then what does that say about everyone behind her?
What it says is that everyone else isn’t a champ either. To me, Wozniacki’s spot on the top of the mountain comes off as a knock on the rest of women’s tennis.
It takes guts to beat Wozniacki, a counter-puncher. She is great at what she does, rarely making mistakes and not-losing her way to titles. On Sunday, she won by making just 10 unforced errors.
She runs everything down, absorbs all power coming at her. She is a human backboard, and at least offers variety to a game that has way too many players doing exactly the same thing:
Bashing mindless shots from the baseline.
Wozniacki makes opponents bash several shots in a row, which requires nerve. The real champs out there, such as Serena and Clijsters, can hold their nerve long enough, which is why they win all the majors.
I still think Sharapova can get it back together. She’s about to turn 24, and has plenty of time. But she crumbled against Wozniacki at the U.S. Open, and then again last month at Indian Wells, where she lost 6-1, 6-2.
Wozniacki assaults the nerve of the women’s tour. Let me say that another way:
She exposes the lack of nerve.
Clijsters and Henin retired the first time because of the pressures of tour life. Maybe we shouldn’t have expected their comebacks into that pressure to last. Henin left in January, one year after coming back. At the same time, Clijsters, 1½ years into her comeback, said this would be her final full year on tour.
She wants to play in the 2012 Olympics in London. But she already was taking four weeks off for shoulder and wrist pain, choosing not to play through them. She also said she wouldn’t play on the tour’s Asian leg in fear over what’s in the air after the nuclear reactor problems in Japan.
And now, this:
“The consequences are rather dire. . .’’ Clijsters website said. “(T)he diagnosis is a severe strain of both the medial and lateral ligaments of the right ankle and torn ligaments, a torn capsule of the ankle joint, a hematoma and torn tendon sheath. Kim’s ankle is now completely immobilized and she can not use her foot for a few days.’’
Officially, she is out four to six weeks. But that would be a miracle comeback, which she isn’t inclined to make.
Even if she does come back, it won’t be for long. Maybe Serena, who’s 29, will return, but it’s hard to imagine her playing regularly again. Victoria Azarenka, 21, is moving into the top five.
But it’s on Wozniacki .
It’s her tour now. But she has to take it.