FRENCH OPEN: Caroline Wozniacki Loses Big to Career Choker, Daniela Hantuchova. Could This Start the Fall of Another No. 1?

Caroline Wozniacki loses at French Open

At least Caroline Wozniacki didn’t start crying on the court and openly, loudly, asking why she’s such a chicken. That’s what Dinara Safina did a few years ago, in her classic No. 1 women’s tennis meltdown.

We’ve seen all sorts of No. 1 players on the women’s tour get to the top and then just blow away like a leaf in the wind. Wozniacki, the current No. 1, lost to career choker Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 6-3 Friday in the third round of the French Open. It was another embarrassing moment for women’s tennis, but more importantly, I wonder if this was the beginning of the fall of Wozniacki.

It’s not that she lacks mental fortitude like Safina. Or Ana Ivanovic. Or Jelena Jankovic. The problem with her is her game. And I’ve gone into it enough times in this space that I won’t spend much time on it now. But she’s way too passive, and doesn’t go out and take anything. She won’t lose to you, but will let you beat her if you are strong enough mentally to bash several shots on the court in a row. That has worked for her, except in majors, because of the nervousness throughout the women’s tour.

But the pressure on other players going against Wozniacki has just dropped for good. She lost her mystique with this match. If Hantuchova can hold it together against her for two sets in a major, then anyone can.

First set: Zero winners. What’s to be afraid of, anyway?

Women’s tennis has a problem. A sport needs to have a champion, someone who is best. Instead, this sport now has a void. A computer has to spit out a name, so it will still say Wozniacki. But she still hasn’t won a major. Serena Williams was best a year ago when she left, but who knows now? And she doesn’t play enough. Kim Clijsters has won the past two majors, so maybe she’s best, but her collapse to a nobody on Wednesday suggests her focus might be slipping, and her future short.

We’re still learning about Wozniacki. She tried to become more aggressive in the second set, even drilling a forehand right at Hantuchova once and knocking her off the baseline. Wozniacki came to net a few times, too, but didn’t seem to know how to get there. She tried to do more with her serve. And she hit eight winners in the set.

Give her credit for trying to adjust. It was still awfully passive to count as “aggressive,’’ though, and she also wasn’t very good at it. But this was a disturbing quote from her afterward: “She knew what she was going to do, and she was too good.’’

That makes it sound as if Wozniacki didn’t think there was anything she could do about it. No champion thinks that way. She’s going to have to learn something. More and more, without a mystique, she will find others able to do what Hantuchova did.

Wozniacki doesn’t have to entirely re-tool her game. She doesn’t have to become a basher, but just someone who can do that if needed. She’s still just 20, and able to make very real changes. But is she willing?

One note: The new ball they’re using at the French, that Babolat ball, flies fast and favors bashers. It helped Hantuchova, who could pound the ball through the clay. Still, the No. 1 player can’t allow herself to be completely run over that way.

This tournament was Wozniacki’s for the taking (and now is Maria Sharapova’s), with Clijsters playing hurt and the Williams sisters out with injury and sickness. It should have been Wozniacki’s proving ground, her big breakthrough.

Instead, she reportedly cried after the match, and has done that before at majors. But I don’t think that matters. Emotional reaction afterward isn’t the same as it would be on the court. I don’t think it’s a sign she’s cracking. She needs to win a major soon, though, or maybe it all will start to get to her.

She’s no chicken. But on the court, she’s going to have to learn to do more than just peck away.

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

3 responses to “FRENCH OPEN: Caroline Wozniacki Loses Big to Career Choker, Daniela Hantuchova. Could This Start the Fall of Another No. 1?

  • roGER

    It’s turning out to be an embarrassing farce on the WTA side, and a magnificent tournament on the ATP side with all the top guys showing strength, skill and courage.

    Hopefully this is just a very bad phase for the WTA, and we just have to sit tight and wait for a champion or two to emerge. It’s a shame how long it’s taking though…

  • Lita

    I hate to say it because one of my best buddies loves Caro, but Caro is falling apart literally. Roberta Vinci mauled her just the other day in the first round of the Rogers Cup up in Canada. Woz looked sad, frustrated, angry and confused. She had no answers for Vinci. I’m aware the wind was a huge problem, but she’s not lost all her matches in the wind has she? NO. Caro is in some deep trouble. Even more than that, she nor her camp are happy now-a-days. I think I heard there’s a chance of her losing her #1 ranking, because she has a ton of points to defend and with the way she’s playing, shes not going to defend them in all likelihood. I hope she gets it together soon and does something. She seems like a very nice young woman.

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