January 23, 2011, 1:47 pm Analysis: How Wozniacki Keeps Winning
By GEOFF MACDONALD
Caroline Wozniacki wins in such a workmanlike, undramatic way that many tennis observers overlook what she does do well. She wears down her opponents with consistency, calm, and a complete understanding of what she can and can’t do on a tennis court. If playing a tennis match is akin to managing money, Wozniacki would earn you a solid return, year in and year out, but she would never stand out.
For this reason, her No. 1 ranking
is viewed as somewhat unearned. She has yet to win a Grand Slam, and many tennis observers point to her solid, unflashy gamestyle as proof that she’s too defensive, too much of a counterpuncher, to ever step up and win a major. When I watch Wozniacki play, I’m reminded of another world No. 1, Mats Wilander, who won the French Open at 17, then stepped back and developed a more complete game to win at Flushing Meadow on hard courts.
Back in the day,at the old Australian Open on the slippery grass at Kooyong, Wilander came through with great returning and even some serve and volley to win. Like Wozniacki, Mats Wilander won matches without a real weapon. His strength — and hers — was that he had no weaknesses. Early on, his serve lacked weight and he rarely attacked. To remedy this, he and his fellow Swede Joachim Nystrom, set out to learn how to play doubles. At first, the Swedes were considered a good draw, as they lacked the proper instincts and could not volley well. A few years later they won Wimbledon.
Wozniacki plays a lot like Wilander. Jay Berger once said that the best shot on the men’s tour was Wilander’s brain, and a similar compliment could be said today about Wozniacki. She wins with good movement and anticipation, unwavering discipline in her shot selection, and a steady, phlegmatic demeanonor. Like Wilander, her favorite shot to pull the trigger on is the down the line backhand. It’s her strong left jab to counter her opponent’s huge roundhouse swings. Against Dominique Cibulkova, Wozniacki withstood a blitzkrieg of huge forehands, staying with her game even when Cibulkova was hitting her off of the court. She rode out the storm, defended and kept the ball in play, and in the end won in straight sets
On Sunday, playing Anastasija Sevastova, Wozniacki again won in straight sets
against an opponent who, for a time, looked capable of taking a set. But Wozniacki won by taking anything Sepostava would give her. A way to watch a great player is to note how often the player wins what I call unremarkable points.
Back to the money metaphor: if each point is a hundred dollars, watch how often Wozniacki wins on a missed service return, a double fault, a loose error early in the point. Yes, she will lose the fast and furious exchange when her opponent hits a winner, but watch her collect the points that will never make a highlight film. Remember, they are all worth a hundred dollars. Watch Wozniacki win like the house at a casino. Nadal is also adept at picking up free points, while giving away very few.
By playing within herself, by not overreaching with her shots, Wozniacki is often accused of not playing to win. Andy Roddick, especially when he locks down and grinds from the backcourt, faces similar criticism. But in adopting that style, both players make themselves hard to beat. Roddick, despite his loss on Sunday, has his superb serve to get him through, but Wozniacki has a first class temperament to handle the rough moments of a match. She may not win every time, but she makes sure that her opponent earns every single point.