Can Wozniacki Regain Lost Ground?

March 30, 2012
by Paula Vergara

Up until a few months ago, Caroline Wozniacki had been riding high at the No. 1 spot for 67 weeks. That was until Victoria Azarenka upped her game and won the Australian Open, knocking Wozniacki off the No. 1 pedestal.

Currently at No. 6 in the world, Wozniacki isn’t necessarily in a deep hole that she needs to claw her way out of. However, any player who reaches the No. 1 ranking, then falters, is automatically placed in the comeback category.

Since the Aussie Open, Wozniacki has achieved moderate success, advancing to the semis in two tournaments (Dubai and Miami). Her most recent brag-worthy victory came in the quarterfinal of the Sony Ericsson Open: A straight-sets win over Serena Williams--her first victory over the American in four attempts, and a big confidence boost for the Dane. Wozniacki was serving well throughout the match, and kept her error count low, which helped her to stay focused. In Thursday’s semifinal vs. Maria Sharapova, Wozniacki battled through a tough, three-set match that lasted over 2 1/2 hours. Sharapova seemed to be breezing through the opening set, taking a 4-1 lead, but her forehand and focus took a break, resulting in Wozniacki winning the next five games to take the lead. Sharapova fought back to take the second set. She managed to close out the match in the deciding set by holding serve, and booked her spot in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open.

Wozniacki was visibly perturbed as she disputed the call on match point when Sharapova’s second serve was called long by the linesman, which would have given Wozniacki the point due to a double fault. But chair umpire Kader Nouni overruled the call, giving the players an opportunity to replay the point, which gave Sharapova another chance to successfully close out the match at 40-30, which she did with an overhead winner. Wozniacki tried (and failed) to make her case to the umpire that he should give Sharapova time to challenge the point when it was called out, especially since Wozniacki had no challenges remaining. The television replay of the point showed the umpire was correct in his overrule. Wozniacki, who didn’t see the replay until after the match, exited the stadium without shaking the chair umpire's hand.

Where has Wozniacki gone wrong? Despite having 18 singles titles to her credit, she hasn’t won a tournament since August, 2011 in New Haven, and was unable to defend her title in Indian Wells just a few weeks ago. 

“I think she’s in a crucial 12-month period at the moment,” says ESPN’s Darren Cahill. “She’s gone away from, in my opinion, what made her a No. 1 player, which is an incredible defensive game. I feel like she’s lost a little bit of speed around the court. She needs to get back to being faster, and getting that ability to get those extra balls back into the court, and put the pressure on her opponents, and shrink her side of the court. I also believe that it’s tough by trying to develop a big forehand. She’s starting with her weight on the back foot, and she’s finishing with her weight on the back foot, and it’s pretty tough to develop a lot of power off that shot if you’re playing everything off the back foot.”

ESPN Analyst and U.S. Fed Cup Captain, Mary Joe Fernandez says that Wozniacki is going through a transition period, but has faith in her future.

“She’s looking fitter. She’s working on her game,” says Fernandez. “Once she gets her confidence back, I think were going to see her right back at the top because she’s so solid. She covers the court so well. Great anticipation skills. She’s won 18 titles and she’s only 21.”

Wozniacki isn’t the only WTA player to lose some ground over the past few months. Clijsters, Schiavone, Pavlyuchenkova, Wickmayer, Mattek-Sands, and Gajdosova are just a handful of players who have slid down the rankings ladder since the start of 2012.

You can safely argue that at age 21, Wozniacki hasn’t reached her potential as a player. As many have said before, her game needs to change in order to improve. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." Fortunately for Wozniacki, she isn't insane, but rather, stuck in her comfort zone.

What’s next for the Dane? She won’t be defending her title in Charleston, which will give her a week to regroup.

At this stage of her career, it’s likely that Wozniacki might be better off at the No. 6 spot. The reason? Chasing the No. 1 position might be a bit easier for her than holding it. And when she does make her comeback to the No. 1 spot, she’ll be ready for it the second time around.

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