Woz that it?

Another grand slam bid fizzles out at the start of the second week, and with it Caroline’s number one spot

When the new womenÂ’s tennis ranking lists are released next Monday, Caroline Wozniacki will no longer be the world number one following her elimination from the Australian Open in straight sets by Kim Clijsters at the quarter-final stage earlier today.

A sluggish performance saw Wozniacki lose 3-6, 6-7 to the Belgian on another scorching day in Melbourne, and her game only really came alive at 2-5 down in the second set, but in the end Clijsters steadied her nerves to see out the tiebreaker 7-4.

Heading into the tournament, it was widely reported that Wozniacki would need to, at the very least, match her 2011 performance and make the semi-finals to have any chance of holding onto her top spot.

ItÂ’s tight at the top. Before the tournament began, any one of four players were in contention to top the rankings: Wozniacki, the Czech RepublicÂ’s number two Petra Kvitova, Belarussian number three Victoria Azarenka and Russian number four Maria Sharapova.

The other three all remain in the tournament. Azarenka also won on Tuesday and now faces Clijsters in the semis, while Kvitova and Sharapova, who play their quarters tomorrow, are seeded to meet in the other semi. It is unclear what would happen should both of them lose and Azarenka fails to make the final, but two of them, Azarenka and Sharapova, have already improved on their fourth round exit of 2011, while Kvitova has matched her 2011 quarter-final appearance.

Nevertheless, journalists tend to copy each other when they write about the rankings system, and it is unclear whether any of the players have done enough to overtake the Dane, who bar one week last February had been number one for 67 weeks. 

“I didn’t feel like I was a set up and 5-2. I had to work really hard for it as Caroline is a great fighter and changed her tactics to become more aggressive,” Clijsters told media following her win.

Wozniacki, meanwhile, told media she was confident she could regain the top spot during 2012 – a claim that looks realistic given her dismal showings at the other grand slams in 2011, tournaments where she will have little to lose and everything to gain.

“At the end of the year, you will see who has played the best, most consistently all year-round. We are just in January,” she said. “I will get it back eventually, so I’m not worried.”

And there were even signs of relief that she wouldnÂ’t have to, at least for a short time, deal with that perennial question.

“I start laughing every time, because the media talks to me like I’m finishing my career and I only have one year left and time is running out,” she said. “The fact is I still have quite a few good years in front of me. I am still improving as a player.”

Leading up to the Australian Open, a great many column inches were dedicated to Martina NavratilovaÂ’s criticism of Wozniacki and the ranking system as a whole. In April last year, it was reported that Wozniacki and her father had spoken to the tennis legend (who won 18 grand slam singles titles) about the possibility of some coaching work in preparation for the 2012 Olympics, at which the Dane is planning to play in both the singles and mixed doubles with Frederik Nielsen.

“Clearly nobody feels that Wozniacki is a true number one,” Navratilova told media in Melbourne.

“If we still had the same ranking system we were using six years ago when they were giving bonus points for beating players, Kvitova would have ended up number one because she had beaten more top players than Wozniacki.”

Navratilova then went on to sing the praises of Kvitova, who beat 13 top-ten players last year, while Wozniacki beat only eight.

The sportÂ’s governing body, the WTA, decided to change its ranking system at the beginning of 2006. Before then, it used a sliding scale that recognised the beaten opponent’s ranking – but the system was considered too complicated by many involved in the game.