Caroline Wozniacki: How Good Does She Have to Be?

On the Baseline Tennis News

She’s been called a pusher, accused of not being aggressive enough with her shots, and criticized for not approaching the net as often as she could. Yet, at age 19, Caroline Wozniacki has held the No. 2 ranking, earned seven career titles, and is the only teenager ranked in the top 25. Is the media being too hard on Wozniacki? Let’s take a look at what’s been happening with her game.

Wozniacki seemed to be on the right track, achieving a career-high ranking of No. 2 in March of this year, after reaching the final at Indian Wells. She won the title in Ponte Vedra Beach for the second year in a row. In mid-April, she suffered a serious setback during her semifinal match in Charleston, where she sustained a bad ankle sprain. As a result, her clay court game suffered during the European clay court season. Wozniacki ended up with early round losses in Stuttgart, Rome and Madrid and won just one match in Warsaw, and retired in her next match due to ongoing ankle problems. Those losses pulled her world ranking down a notch to No. 3.

Fortunately, now that the grass court season is underway, Wozniacki seems to be back to full health, and has the potential to be a major threat at Wimbledon. Back in 2006, Wozniacki won the Wimbledon singles title as a junior (at age 15). Wozniacki’s results from Wimbledon as a WTA Tour player have shown that she has taken the slow and steady route, advancing one additional round each year since 2007. Wozniacki has proven that her game is well suited to grass, winning Eastbourne in 2009, and making it to the fourth round at Wimbledon the same year. Wozniacki admits that she always feels good on grass, and it is by far, one of her favorite surfaces (next to hard courts). It will be interesting to see if she can defend her title at Eastbourne, and get past Kim Clijsters, who took the title there in 2005.

As an accomplished baseliner, Wozniacki hits with depth and has superb ball placement. She is also able to mix up the pace and spin with her shots. Consistency and mental tenacity are her strengths, along with footwork, speed, anticipation, and hard-hitting ground strokes. She rarely makes a large number of unforced errors, and she has shown up and fought through matches to the best of her ability, week after week, pushing through her injuries.

Wozniacki’s ankle problems haven’t allowed her to play at her best level in recent months, but she has shown a marked improvement, making it to the quarterfinals at the French Open. She has stepped out of her comfort zone at the baseline a bit more, and is slowly taking more risks at the net. The speed on Wozniacki’s serve has also shown improvement, reaching speeds as high as 118 mph at the French Open, up from 107-110 mph at the Australian Open.

The question is, how good does Caroline Wozniacki have to be to win her first Grand Slam singles title and/or achieve the world No. 1 ranking? I agree that Wozniacki needs to develop more weapons, or, even one BIG weapon. She also needs to be the one dictating points more often than her opponent.

To fairly assess Wozniacki’s game, you also have to look at those players who are currently ranked No. 1 and 2 in the world. What do Serena and Venus have that Wozniacki doesn’t? Experience. Venus has been on the WTA Tour for 16 years, Serena, 15. Even Sam Stosur, who is having the best year of her career, has been on the Tour for 11 years. Serena didn’t achieve the No. 1 ranking (for the first time) until 2002. By that point, Serena had been on the Tour for seven years.

Wozniacki definitely has more match experience than she had a year ago, but with so many players who have so many more years of experience under their belt, it’s understandable that Wozniacki’s game, by comparison, may not seem to be where it should be. But in tennis, when you weigh experience vs. age, experience usually wins. In time, Wozniacki will be as good as she has to be.

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