Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why hasn’t Wozniacki won a Slam?

I’m not dissing her. This is not an attack article but a genuinely questioning one. And while most times I am content to simply express my own opinions, this time I admit to some uncertainty. So I am truly inviting your comments and insights into why Wozniacki has not yet won a Slam. I truly don’t get it, especially after watching the way she destroyed both Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova back to back in the desert. If she can do that in Dubai and 12 other tournament settings, why can she not translate her winning ways into a Slam victory?

There are players who came close to winning Slams and I understood clearly why they did not. Dinara Safina, Rainer Schüttler, and Elena Dementieva come immediately to mind. These are players who made it to the finals of Slam events but who could not close the deal, for varying reasons. I genuinely do not understand why Caroline Wozniacki is still on this list.

I thought I understood. I used to say that Caro was too passive, too defensive, too contented to just keep getting the ball back, a strategy that is effective against most players on the tour but one that seems inadequate in the final throes of a Slam. It is a strategy that has won Caroline 13 WTA titles. That is no small feat. Compare this with Mara Santangelo, the talented but injury-hampered Italian who just retired from tennis with a single title to her name. Wozniacki, at 20, has accomplished far more than the majority of her cohorts. But she is yet to win a Slam. What exactly is the problem?

When I looked at the way Wozniacki destroyed Kuznetsova today in Dubai, my thoughts were that she should be considered the clear favorite going into any tournament this year. Wozniacki didn’t just win this match. She shut Kuznetsova almost completely out of the first set which she won easily 6-1. Kuznetsova seemed lethargic, subdued, sluggish. She made a number of unforced errors that were frankly embarrassing to watch. It’s one thing to miss a shot. It’s quite another to miss the lines by over six feet!

Finally Sveta came to life in the second set, showing some of the form that led her to two Slam wins. But nothing she did could prevent her from being broken by a determined and feisty Wozniacki who closed out the second set 6-3. It wasn’t so much a great match as it was a good beating. Gone was the passive, defensive Wozniacki relying only on her speed and corner-to-corner return pattern – although this being the basis of her game, this strategy was very present. But in addition she was able to construct some incredible points to break Sveta seven times.

Caroline Wozniacki has returned to the #1 position, after briefly losing it to Kim Clijsters for a minute. There are many – including myself – who believe that Kim Clijsters was a more deserving #1 because she has the Slam wins to back it up. This is a sensitive issue and I am not waffling when I say that I see both sides. On the one hand, I believe that you can’t fault players for being effective at amassing enough points to game the WTA’s faulty point system. On the other hand, there’s nothing like a Slam win to cement one’s arrival at the top.

So count me amount those who believe that Caroline Wozniacki needs to win a Slam. And in the next breath I will also say that Caro is a most deserving # 1 because she has the talent and points to be there, even without a Slam win. And yes, I am talking out of both sides of my mouth because I truly feel both ways. I was probably among the loudest voices defending Safina’s position at # 1 under similar circumstances. I felt that it was unfair of folks to ride her for not having a Slam win. Which is why my intent today is not to criticize Wozniacki but only to ask the question. Why hasn’t she won a Slam?

My own theory is that the reasons vary with the bridesmaid. For Safina it was all about her back and her head. Under the pressure of being close to the pinnacle, she seemed to choke. For Rainer Schuttler against a re-born Agassi at the 2003 Australian Open, Rainer seemed to develop a case of disbelief, as if he really had no business being there. So, for the most part, he really wasn’t. For Dementieva, her infamous serving problems would show up whenever the pressure was on.

I believe that part of the problem with Wozniacki may be that she has what it takes to play great tennis for one full week. She excels at week-long events. She seems able to sustain her energy and focus during a seven day period. But give her a two-week event like a Slam and something seems to go off the rails. Next thing you know she's rambling on and on about kangaroos.

But at 20 Caro is young enough to still learn and grow, talented enough to become a more aggressive player, and fit enough mentally and physically to win a Slam. Is it then just a matter of time? Or will Caroline Wozniacki remain on the list of players who are ever the bridesmaids but never the brides?


Kim at TennisFixation said...

She'll definitely be a bride - I'm sure as she continues to mature she will develop the stamina (mentally) to make it all the way to the end of a Slam and have success. Great article (as usual!).

TennisAce said...

The reason why Wozniacki has not won a major: On Court Coaching.

During regular Tour events, no matter how poorly she is playing or how well she is playing she can call her father down and consult. During the majors, that option is no longer available to her.

This year was the first time that she had lost in a major in three sets. Every other time it has always been a straight set beatdown. Until she learns to strategise on her own, she will always be a bridesmaid and some days not even that.

Grand Slam champions know how to win matches. It does not take focus, determination, a good game plan or anything like that. All it takes is belief that your game is better than your opponent's. As long as Wozniacki keeps calling daddy down courtside to hold her hand, she will not win a major.

Anonymous said...

I actually have to agree with TennisAce. Wozniacki will continue to win most tournaments outside the majors because of the Tag Team going on between her and DADDY. It's really a shame because that advantage is prohibited in slams, hence the never ending losses. Apart from Justine, I can't recall any other female player who constantly called for backup like she does and won a major. She has enough talent and should learn to figure out the fight on the court by herself, and not getting DADDY involved and giving her encouraging words every two seconds.

tennischick said...

Court-side coaching is one of the worst things that happened to women's tennis. I hope Daddy Wozniacki comes to realize that his daughter needs to learn how to think for herself. Because I too agree with Tennis Ace that that seems like a good explanation of the difference between when Wozniacki wins and when she does not.