Thumbs Down: Wozniacki's Hindsight

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 /by

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by Pete Bodo

Caroline Wozniacki is sorely in need of a Stefan Edberg moment. Edberg was a player of an entirely different class than Wozniacki has been, but he also struggled early in his career before finding what his lifelong coach and mentor Tony Pikard described as, "that fire in his belly."

One year after losing at Wimbledon, Edberg remarked: "Well, there is always another tournament next week." The very next year, after taking another loss, he famously said, "Well, there's still the doubles."

Yes, Edberg was a wonderful doubles player. No, that's not the point.

Wozniacki, the now deposed and still-Slamless WTA No. 1 for the previous two calendar years, has had trouble managing expectations, setting priorities, and embracing challenges. If the content of this recent story by Matt Cronin is any indicator, Wozniacki hasn't got a clue about how a truly elite player thinks, feels, and acts.

Consider the way she described her loss to Kim Clijsters at the Australian Open—the loss that drove the final nail into the coffin of any hope she had of retaining the top ranking, as well as getting the Grand Slam monkey off her back. That is, if down deep she even had such hopes at all—no sure thing, that. Of course, you can't blame her for the kinds of questions she is asked, but her responses are startlingly anodyne.

"I think I am a hard worker, and in a sport you always have times where you play great tennis and times where when maybe you aren’t playing your best and just trying to find a way to win," she said. "I played Kim the day where she played really well and it’s just an unfortunate thing that I could not pull off, especially during the second set when I really felt like I was doing that. I just need to keep improving on my serve and my returns and just trying to play the sport and trying to always improve like during the next game or the first shot. Just need to up your game."

I can think of so many things that are wrong here, starting with the way the most Wozniacki can muster in hindsight is the verbal equivalent of a big, fat shrug, and ending with the conspicuous absence of a promise to do better. Her thoughts also reflect what is by now looking like an almost pathological desire to deflect and deny the existence of anything like pressure, which is just another word for responsibility—you know, that feeling that drives Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to play a five-and-a-half-hour Australian Open final, the urgency that Justine Henin felt at the French Open and—irony alert!—that Clijsters so often shied away from, much like Wozniacki does.

If you really want to win majors and be No. 1, you've got to embrace and address that pressure, as Edberg learned. And you have to want to pluck your eyes out when you fail to use it to lift your game to the appropriate height. Couldn't Wozniacki sound at least a little bit angry with herself, with Clijsters, or with the alignment of the stars that day? Maybe there is no hurt. Perhaps inside the body of this quarter horse is a plow horse, dying to get out.

Like Edberg once said, "There's always another tournament next week."

You have to wonder if Wozniacki will ever figure this out, and do as Edberg did: Look in the mirror and say, I. . .am. . .better. . .than. . .this. . . and actually do something about it. Or die trying.

I get the feeling that this dialogue, or something like it, was percolating in the background during Wozniacki's brief, two-month flirtation with Ricardo Sanchez, a coach who—unlike her father/coach Piotr—seemed to want to take Wozniacki's game, and her results, to new and unexplored territory. What, after all, did she really have to lose, stuck as she was spinning her wheels?

"Well for now, I’ll probably just keep it to me and my dad," Wozniacki cheerfully said of her decision to deep-six Sanchez. "I like it when the team is not too big. I like just to have the cozy atmosphere; I don’t like where there are too many people. It’s worked great in the past as well and for now I just want to keep it like it is."

Sheesh. How much cozier can it get for a top WTA star? Has there ever been a lamer defense of a status quo that has glaciated? I guess you can argue that life is awfully good for this affable 21-year-old. The checks keep flowing in, and from all different directions. Her personal life seems rosy and stable. Daddy is never far afield. You could say that for Wozniacki, it's as good as it gets, and let's toast her good fortune instead of roasting her for her shortcomings.

You had to admire Sanchez for taking the high road in his recent remarks on the sudden break up. He said she has an "exquisite quality" and a "promising future," adding: "I think Caroline can win a Grand Slam and return to No. 1 with her father, with me, or even a flower seller."

Anyone know a flower peddler looking for work?

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