HIGH noon at Olympic Park. Hotter than Hades. Nearly as hot as Birdsville. Caroline Wozniacki finished her sweat-soaked training session for the Sydney International. Time to flee the paparazzi: The Australian with an iPhone.
Rory McIlroy carried her bags from Ken Rosewall Arena. Good man. Since popping the question on Sydney Harbour on New Year's Eve, McIlroy has clearly become aware of Bill Cosby's truth about the secret to wedded bliss: "The wife is in charge."
The real fascination with Wozniacki is the search for grunt in her tennis rather than the size of the rock on her finger. Two points of interest at Homebush. The first was the presence of Maria Sharapova's former coach, Thomas Hogstedt, the hired gun trying to inspire a maiden majors triumph for Wozniacki at the Australian Open. Even more telling, in readiness for her first tournament appearance since Hogstedt was signed in October, was the thick-framed Babolat racquet she used to club ball after ball after ball.
Wozniacki is a slip of a thing. Looks like Jane, plays like Jane. Serena Williams and Sharapova huff and puff and blow her off the court. She has better movement than Sharapova, and better court craft than both of them, but they hit poor little Bambi into oblivion.
Hogstedt and the Babolat are the cures. Sharapova's discarded mentor was doing with Wozniacki yesterday what he used to do with Sharapova, getting her to nail forehands, hitting them flat and hard, pausing and surging into them with the leg drive of a shot-putter.
Her old Yonex stick has been ditched. To ratchet up the power, she will compete with the most powerful racquet on the market, the thick-framed Aeropro Team range of Babolat favoured by the heaviest slugger in world tennis, Rafa Nadal. She appeared to be hitting a heavier ball yesterday but the real test will be whether she can do it under pressure when Sharapova and Williams are landing their bombs.
Wozniacki snuck in a few matches with a Babolat last year. Contracted to Yonex but dissatisfied with their equipment, she painted the frames of Babolat's black and finished the year by winning the final at Luxembourg. The Nadal-style, black-and-yellow frame was paraded for all to see yesterday. A contract has been signed, Yonex has been told to take a hike and the black paint has been left at home.
Wozniacki had two exhaustive sessions inside Homebush's concrete jungle. Her late-morning drills on Rosewall were followed by a burst on Court 2. McIlroy fetched stray balls. He sat in the umpire's chair. He hit a few shots: two-handed backhands, unconvincing. His departure was delayed by kids asking him for autographs and photographs. Wozniacki walked off alone. No one wanted her signature.
She has collected nearly $US16 million ($17.9m) in prizemoney, she once held the world No 1 ranking, she's part of the most famous sporting couple since Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf and she got to see Sydney's fireworks. Life's good. But she's never done what McIlroy has managed twice, the winning of a major title.
Running out of ideas, she's turned to Sharapova's coach and Nadal's flashing blade. They're not the worst ideas she's ever had.