Back in the day it was popular to criticize Venus and Serena for not playing enough tennis. From the start this was their father’s strategy and he stuck by it even as the top coaches he hired to help train his daughters told him that he was wrong in his refusal to allow them to play Juniors. Despite the criticism and despite the fact that all he knew about tennis came from reading books, Richard stuck to his guns. And that became the template for his daughters’ careers. Play few tournaments, prepare mainly for the Slams, and almost always win when you play.
Despite his cautious approach, both of his daughters have suffered tennis injuries. Many saw that as the downside to playing so little. They felt that the Williams sisters came to events without being properly match-toughened. The critics felt that the approach of playing too little tennis did them more harm than good – not when it came to their bank balances because they would always pass on the lesser events and go for the million dollar wins – but perhaps in the risk of injury to a body not used to the grind of competition.
It’s a tough call and I see both sides. But if I had a daughter who played tennis, I would probably err on the side of Papa Williams than Papa Wozniacki. It is a fact that Caroline Wozniacki plays too much damn tennis. Indeed, I was shocked when none other than Lindsay Davenport made that statement categorically yesterday as she watched Wozniacki get dismantled by a resurgent Hantuchova. The 28-year-old experienced player made Caroline look like a mouth-breathing Junior.
I believe that the mouth-breathing golden retriever (hereinafter to be known as MBGR), has two main problems. I’m sure that there are more than two but I am focusing on the main ones that need to be fixed stat. The first is that she is playing too much damn tennis. The second is that she is a cautious, non-risk-taker who aims to please – much like a golden puppy who wants to play fetch. And I mean no offense with this analogy.
I am sure that it must be a very difficult challenge for a coach to try to find that right balance between practice or training, and playing. I believe it was John McEnroe who admitted that he hated tennis practice and often used playing as a form of practice. But playing and competing can never be a substitute for training or practice – not if you believe in the 10,000 hours rule. In training you work on improving your fitness, developing new strategies, building new shots, strengthening your game plan, and repairing areas of weaknesses. When you rely only on playing, there is the likelihood that you will simply keep repeating the same old same old, which then becomes a permanent part of your muscle memory. Next thing you know your game plan is as predictable as the opening of your mouth.
That is the problem that Wozniacki now faces. I’m not saying that she doesn’t do any off-court training. I am sure that she does. But she spends far more time playing and by doing so, she keeps repeating and falling back on the same passive retrieving game plan.
There was a single backhand shot that Caroline played decisively in the second set against Hantuchova. It was a single shot that stood out because you knew that those were the kinds of shots that the #1 player should be able to produce repeatedly, easily, fluidly. It was a beautiful backhand shot, and it was distinctive for being the only one that she played that powerfully for a decisive winner. Really, let’s be honest, this woman is becoming an embarrassment as the # 1 player in women’s tennis. I’ve given her the benefit of the doubt before. Having seen her up close in Charleston, I can’t any longer. She needs to get off the court and go back to practice.
But she also has to develop the mental strength that will allow her to take risks. Wozniacki is way too cautious, too careful, too concerned that her blue nail polish is perfectly matchy matchy with her dress. She never steps outside of a mental safety zone. She doesn’t dare. Whenever Papa Wozniacki comes out and talks to her, what subsequently changes is that for a moment she loses the passivity and becomes more aggressive. Her game plan remains the predictable same, but she plays with less fear. In a Slam where Papa Woz can only mutter from his seat but not in her ear, she remains hidden inside herself, too scared to cross the line. That is a psychological problem. And as long as she is reliant on Daddy to help her out of it, she will never win a Slam.