Caroline Wozniacki has made headlines in these parts lately largely due to sightings of the Danish Tennis star with Rory McIlroy but Worldwide there’s a bigger story off the court for the WTA #1. Her reign at the top without a Grand Slam to her name has drawn criticism from many quarters. As the US Open Series gets under way, Emmet Ryan says the road to the last major of the season will be vital to her bid to be recognised as the best in the business.
The crux of the issue
Wozniacki is not the first world #1 to reach the summit without a Grand Slam to her name but none of her predecessors have held the crown as long as the Dane before winning a major. Wozniacki first took the top spot last year and has, with minor interruption, held the top spot almost exclusively since the autumn. In the interim there have been Grand Slam wins by Kim Clijsters (world #2), Na Li (6) and Petra Kvitova (7). Wozniacki has only made one Grand Slam semi-final this year, in Australia, and failed to make it past the last 16 at either Roland Garros or Wimbledon. The main criticism Wozniacki faces is that she tends to pad her points by performing well at lesser tournaments around slams. The Dane won in Brussels the week before Roland Garros and, after going out in the third round in Paris, she won in Copenhagen the week after the tournament. Her decision to play in Bastad the week after her early exit from Wimbledon drew further derision. Wozniacki’s tournament selection hasn’t helped dispel the theory that she is #1 in name only
Actually she’s quite good
The thing is the three tournaments I cited above are an unfair reflection on Wozniacki. Copenhagen is her home tournament, she would have been expected to play there while a strong WTA field played in Brussels. She was only in Bastad because of a contract requirement dating back 2 years, a time when she was still scaling the rankings. The more important issue is to look at where else she has performed well.
In Premier Mandatory (PM) and Premier 5 (P5) events, the WTA’s equivalent of the Masters Series in men’s Tennis, Wozniacki has performed particularly well in 2011. This year alone she has won titles in Dubai (P5) and Indian Wells (PM), which along with her other honours makes her the only player at the time of writing to have claimed crowns from all four of the levels below Grand Slam level this season.
Points are a problem
The system which made Wozniacki world #1 is flawed, to the detriment of all the players in the game. As I wrote last year, there is a greater motivation in the men’s game for all players to prioritise tournaments the same way because of the points structure. Loading up on smaller tournaments doesn’t help on the ATP the same way as it does in the women’s game. Likewise that knock-on effect is that it encourages bigger men’s players to match the activity levels of their contemporaries in the Top 20. Some combination of PM and P5 tournaments seems the most practical solution, and then adapting the rest of the points structure to essentially match the ATP’s scoring system in every way.
Only one way to silence the doubters
While the criticism of Wozniacki is largely misguided, it isn’t going away anytime soon. Her lack of activity between Bastad and the Rogers Cup in Toronto will have given her a much need rest ahead. Having claimed the US Open series crown last year but not the only title in that pseudo-league that mattered, Wozniacki will know her best chance to silence the doubters will come on the hard courts this autumn. Having reached the final at Flushing Meadows in 2009 and the semi-finals last year, the Dane’s only surefire way to give credibility to her status is to match her Twitter buddy McIlroy and win the US Open.
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