FRENCH OPEN: Does Caroline Wozniacki Have a Knockout Punch? (Does She Need One to be a Champion?)

Caroline Wozniacki (the one on the right) at the Australian Open

We’ve accepted all different kinds of tennis champions, from artists to bashers, heavy-spinners to flat-ballers, serve-and-volleyers to baseliners. Why can’t we accept Caroline Wozniacki? Or at least, why can’t I?

I’m not just talking about her No. 1 ranking. In tennis, the rankings are just a sidebar to what makes a champion. Champions win majors, and she never has. But it’s more than that. It’s her style of play, her defensive, wait-for-the-other-guy-to-miss style. I want a champion to win a match, not to not-lose it. Winning a championship is supposed to be an active pursuit, not a passive one. You go take it.

Maybe that’s just the American in me, but I’m having a hard time thinking of past champions who weren’t killers deep-down. It’s not coincidence that has kept Wozniacki from winning a major while winning most everything and everywhere else. It’s not just a matter of time for someone so young and so good. It’s her style, her non-champion style.

That’s my theory, anyway. I wrote about it a couple weeks ago, and it seemed to stir things up some in Denmark, where she’s from. How’s this for modern media: Based on my blog post here, I ended up on Danish TV that day via Skype from my home in Chicago.

But the path has been cleared perfectly for Wozniacki at the French Open, where she plays her first-round match Monday against 40-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm. The Williams sisters are out with injuries and illness; Kim Clijsters, who has won the past two majors, is trying to play on a heavily taped ankle with torn ligaments; Justine Henin, the queen of the French Open, has retired again.

This is Wozniacki’s big chance. And maybe I’ve been a little unfair to her. She’s just 20, so she has plenty of time to develop some sort of attack. But maybe her current style is, in fact, what can make a champion in this era.

Maybe Wozniacki is defining a new champion. I don’t think so, but maybe.

Face it, the women on tour today show a complete lack of variety, and all but a handful have shown a lack of guts, too. They all sit back and bash away. Julia Goerges, a young player suddenly emerging, was in a tight second set Sunday and won when her opponent double-faulted three times in a row in the last game.

Pressure moment, no nerve = Choke.

Last month, former No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario sounded to most people like an old-fogey living in the past. The media ripped her for it. One thing: What she said to the Spanish newspaper El Pais was right.

Every. . .last. . .word.

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario

“We (players in her era) had eight or 10 players who always had an extreme rivalry,’’ she said, according to Tennis Magazine’s translation into English. “And to be No. 1, or winning a Grand Slam or two, that just didn’t come. Now, everything is much more open. . .

“There is a lot more power in the game, but it lacks variety. If you ask people, they know names of the Williams sisters or Clijsters, and Henin, but don’t ask them to tell you the name of the No. 1.’’

That’s Wozniacki.

I’m not sure exactly what tennis coaches must be teaching young girls today, but the players who seem to be able to adapt, and to hold their nerve, are older. Wozniacki lost to Li Na, who’s 29, in the Australian. At last year’s French, she lost to eventual champ Francesca Schiavone, who is 30.

One Williams sister is on each side of 30. Clijsters will turn 28 next month. They are champions.

Wozniacki doesn’t play like the other young players. She’s a backboard with great footwork. She doesn’t crush the ball, but keeps running balls down and makes her opponents bash more balls onto the court than they’re used to. That takes nerve. Mostly, they don’t have it.

So while I don’t see Wozniacki’s style as that of a champion, maybe the truth is that her game just happens to be perfectly suited for her era’s opponents. That’s what a champion is supposed to be, right? She has developed the game that works against players who lack nerve and adaptability, and today’s players lack nerve and adaptability.

Caroline Wozniacki

In the old days, Sanchez-Vicario’s days, that wouldn’t have worked. I think Wozniacki would have had a hard time staying in the top seven or eight. Imagine big hitters with nerve, say Lindsay Davenport, facing her.

But today, only a handful of players, and some other veterans, can adjust and produce their best at the biggest moments. The majors. Many of those players are out or playing hurt.

Wozniacki could be great for tennis. She wants to be a champion, and can sell the game well. I can imagine Maria Sharapova, who I pick to win the French, getting her game back fully and going on to have a great rivalry with Wozniacki. But if Wozniacki has the style of a champion, this would be the moment to prove it.

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

4 responses to “FRENCH OPEN: Does Caroline Wozniacki Have a Knockout Punch? (Does She Need One to be a Champion?)

  • Ziggi

    Nope!
    Of course Caroline will win a major – but it won`t be at Roland Garros. She is not a clay-player. No you just wait until USOpen – and whether the Williams-sisters are anticipating or not wont matter at all.

  • John JM

    I can’t accept her either. Actually, it would annoy me if she won a major playing like she does. I just don’t want her validated like that. Maybe I’m being weird, but sometimes I find it *obnoxious* the way she keeps popping balls back onto the court. And then I get mad at her opponent for letting her get away with it– ‘Just put the damn ball away!’ I think to myself.

    No, really. Ladies. She’s making you all look bad.

  • tapicer kraków

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  • likwidacja karaluchów Zielona Góra

    I hardly comment, but i did a few searching and wound up here FRENCH OPEN: Does Caroline
    Wozniacki Have a Knockout Punch? (Does She Need One
    to be a Champion?) | Greg Couch on Tennis. And
    I actually do have a few questions for you if
    it’s allright. Is it just me or does it look like some of these responses appear like they are
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