Woz there ever a better chance for her to win a grand slam?
The 2011 clay court season is climaxing and Caroline Wozniacki is hoping to come good at exactly the right time to finally lose her grand slam virginity and win the silverware befitting of a player who has spent 31 of the last 32 weeks as the world number one.
The draw for the 2011 French Open was confirmed late last week, and it is a favourable one for the young Dane, particularly with both the Williams sisters still injured. If the betting is anything to go by, four of her five main rivals are in the other half of the draw: Victoria Azarenka (the 5/1 favourite), Maria Sharapova (7/1), Kim Clijsters (12/1), and Petra Kvitova (12/1). Only Vera Zvonareva (12/1) is in her half, and she isnÂ’t seeded to meet her until the semis.
If everything goes according to plan, Wozniacki will play 2009 French Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in the last 16 and either Julia Goerges or Samantha Stosur in the quarters, with defending champion Francesca Schiavone or Zvonareva her likely opponent in the semis.
On paper it looks like an easy draw, but unfortunately this tournament will be played on clay, a surface that Wozniacki has so far struggled on in her career Â– which is surprising given her baseline defensive style. She has never advanced beyond the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and not yet managed to win a WTA premier tournament on clay Â– her win in the Brussels Open on Saturday was her first ever clay tournament triumph in Europe. Despite that win, her European clay campaign this year has been disappointing. She lost to Goerges in the final in Stuttgart, to her again in Madrid and then to Sharapova in the Rome semis.
But despite this, surely she should still be the favourite to win the French Open. Not so, say the bookies and it looks like they are simply concurring with the ever-growing criticism of WozniackiÂ’s tactics to defend and counterpunch, instead of attack Â– a game-plan that has earned her the nickname Â‘SnooziackiÂ’ in some quarters. While her opponents hit all the winners on the highlights reel, she makes them earn every point and invariably capitalises on their errors to win the match.
This style of play – combined with her good movement, anticipation, consistency and disciplined shot selection – has so far brought her a lot of success. However, there is a feeling that if she doesnÂ’t add to her world-class defensive game Â– beaten opponents often complain that she was Â“everywhereÂ” on court – then players like Goerges will continue to believe they can beat her by simply going for their shots.
A look at her run at the Australian Open confirms this. In the third round Dominika Cibulkova made 41 winners to WozniackiÂ’s eleven, in the fourth round Anastasija Sevastova made 26 winners to WozniackiÂ’s 16, in the quarters Schiavone made 41 winners to WozniackiÂ’s 13, and in the semis, losing to Li Na, the Chinese player made 42 winners to WozniackiÂ’s ten. Even in the first round, Gisela Dulko made 35 winners to WozniackiÂ’s 15.
So maybe thatÂ’s why Wozniacki has asked the sportÂ’s greatest attacking player ever, Martina Navratilova, to be her consultant. The multiple grand slam winner (18 in all) was approached by the DaneÂ’s coach and father Piotr Wozniacki in April to help Wozniacki in connection with her bid to represent Denmark in doubles at the 2012 Olympics.
Â“In Charleston, we had a chat with Martina Navratilova,” he told Sporten.dk. Â“When she was active, [Martina] not only won the big singles tournaments, but also had excellent results in women’s and mixed doubles. We have plans to engage her as a consultant. It is obviously not cheap – the price to hire her may well reach about $300,000 and weÂ’ll have to pay out of our own pockets.Â”
The reasoning sounds like a weak excuse from a coach reluctant to concede that his player has weaknesses. Navratilova would be able to give Wozniacki a plan of attack, the mental strength to win slams, and maybe even a volley.
Back in November, Navratilova, who has made a full recovery after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, told Reuters that she was Â“waiting for Wozniacki to assert herself a little moreÂ” at the grand slams. Â“You’ve got to step up to the plate at the big one,Â” she said. Â“She needs to win a slam, she wants to win a slam and most likely next year  she’ll win one.Â”
NavratilovaÂ’s fee wonÂ’t hit Wozniacki too hard. As well as the prize money, she currently has numerous endorsements from which she earns an estimated $9 million a year – a figure that will further increase should she win a grand slam.
The beautiful Monaco resident is in terms of sponsorship one of EuropeÂ’s most successful sports stars, and it probably helps that she is fluent in Danish, Polish and English and has an understanding of Russian, Norwegian, Swedish, Czech, Slovakian, French and Spanish.
But to truly achieve success in her sport, she must win a grand slam Â– that it how all the players past and present are judged. And she wonÂ’t get a better chance than at this yearÂ’s French Open.
Factfile | WozniackiÂ’s main rivals for French Open glory
The favourite Victoria Azarenka has never before made it beyond the quarter-finals of a grand slam, but the Belarussian is clearly in good form after making it to three WTA finals since early April, and winning two of them.
RussiaÂ’s Maria Sharapova ended a long slump to return to winning ways at the 2011 Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome earlier this month, beating Wozniacki in the semis. This was her first WTA premier event win on clay Â– a surface that is clearly not her favourite.
BelgiumÂ’s Kim Clijsters is the best player in womenÂ’s tennis and would have been the favourite had she not suffered a serious ankle injury in late April, despite the fact that she prefers other surfaces.
Petra Kvitova is a Czech clay courter who impressively won the 2011 Mutua Madrid Open in early May.
RussiaÂ’s Vera Zvonareva has made the semi-finals of the last three grand slams, losing in the finals of last yearÂ’s Wimbledon and US Open, but her form has dipped in recent months.
Julia Goerges is a rapidly improving German clay courter who beat Wozniacki in the final of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart and then less than two weeks later beat her again at the Mutua Madrid Open. She has never made it past the third round of a grand slam.
AustraliaÂ’s Samantha Stosur last year became the first player to beat Justine Henin at Roland Garros since 2004 on her way to the final, which she lost to ItalyÂ’s Francesca Schiavone.