Bodo's been at it again....
12 for '12: Biggest Disappointments
Pete Bodo / Thursday, December 06, 2012
Women’s: Caroline Wozniacki
Although Wozniacki never has won a Grand Slam title, you would expect that the pride she took from finishing as the year-end No. 1 for two consecutive years would have impelled her to do something—anything—in 2012 to declare that she’s not giving up her privileged place in the game. You know, trip Serena Williams on a changeover. Throw a cream pie into Agnieszka Radwanska’s face. Beat someone besides that other Slam-less former No. 1, Jelena Jankovic (against whom Wozniacki was 2-0 in 2012).
But no, Wozniacki did nothing of the kind. Instead, she continued to cultivate and trade on her image as a fun-loving, easygoing, coach-firing, golfer-dating, publicity-seeking young lady of 22. She seems blithely unconcerned—or is it “unaware?”—that the game may be passing her by. But that’s a mistake made easily enough when you consider how hard the WTA (as well as Wozniacki and her handlers) have worked to position her, and others like her, as glamorous celebrities who are far too special to be perceived as mere athletes, or judged on something as simple as their results.
Perhaps Wozniacki really does care, in the sense that a Rafael Nadal or a Serena or a Maria Sharapova really cares, about winning big tournaments. But the signal she sends in word and deed is that while it would be nice to do that, it isn’t necessarily worth getting all worked up over.
The same goes for coaching. It’s nice to have a coach, especially when you’ve come up against some hard realities that have put a cap on your up-side. In Wozniacki’s case, those were bundled under the fact that in today’s game, you can’t win a Grand Slam title just by playing excellent defense, not with ball strikers like Serena, Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka afoot.
But then, if you let your father continue to feed the balls, you can stay in your comfort zone and also save a lot of money. Hence the quick end to the Ricardo Sanchez experiment and the immediate reinstatement of Wozniacki’s father, Piotr, as coach. Looking at it that way makes it easier to understand why Wozniacki blind-sided Sanchez by firing him in Februrary, just two months after taking him on as a coach. The poor guy barely had time to tell the world what a thrill and honor it was to get the job—and he was out the door.
Ironically, Sanchez was the coach-of-record for Wozniacki’s best Grand Slam result this year, a quarterfinal at the Australian Open (where she lost to Kim Clijsters). But it was all downhill from there: A third-round appearance at the French Open, and successive first-round losses at the final two majors of the year.
Wozniacki’s record for 2012 was a mediocre—certainly for her—50-21, and with a few exceptions her year was downright lousy until the late fall. In order to finish in the Top 10, Wozniacki had to win Moscow (only her second title of the year) and make the final of Sofia, the second-tier version of the WTA Championships, called the “Tournament of Champions” but more aptly described as the semi-invitational “Tournament of Also-Rans.”
Wozniacki’s 7-5 in-the-third win over Sam Stosur in the Moscow final was a praiseworthy accomplishment, one of the few from her year. But her loss to Nadia Petrova in the Sofia final by a dismal 6-2, 6-1 score was more emblematic of her season.
Some would say that given her natural limitations and inclinations as a conservative, defensive baseliner, Wozniacki is doing just great. She ought to be praised instead of criticized for her consistency. There’s some truth to that; Wozniacki certainly earned that No. 1 ranking on the court, and even in this disappointing year she finished in the elite Top 10. But in tennis, we grade on a curve, and those players lucky and gifted enough to stand as Grand Slam title contenders are expected to show strength, determination, and a burning desire to improve and win. Perhaps Wozniacki has been thrown off her game by her well-publicized relationship with golfer Rory McIlroy; it wouldn’t be the first time that romance has proved a deterrent to focus and success (and that’s especially true for younger players).
But until Wozniacki herself addresses that issue, or gives some indication that she’s actually troubled by the fall-off in her results, we can only go by the evidence of our eyes. Right now, they tell us that Wozniacki is loving life, and not overly concerned that she’s has gone from world No. 1 to runner-up in the Tournament of Also-Rans.