Looking ahead to 2014 with a new racquet, fiancé and coach

Caroline Wozniacki has every reason to be optimistic, but the bookmakers concur that she needs a miracle to succeed at the Australian Open

It was Stephen Hawking who once said: “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road,” and you can see his point. Surely nobody is incapable of change.

And for tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, it has been an inescapable truth for several years that her defensive game will never be good enough to win her a grand slam. She hasn’t made it to the quarter-finals of a major since the 2012 Australian Open. And last year she only managed to win one WTA tournament – back in 2010, when players struggled to break down the defences of a player nicknamed ‘The Wall’ and ‘Snooziacki’, she won six. 

But finally, heading into 2014, there are signs that times-are-a-changing in the Wozniacki camp. She has a new fiancé, the golfer Rory McIlroy, which will hopefully lead to less off-court distractions; she has dispensed of a racquet that she used to make bundles of cash, but did not suit her game; and most importantly, she has finally ended her coaching relationship with her father, Piotr, and appointed Thomas Högstedt, a Swede with a proven track record that most recently saw him coach Maria Sharapova to four grand slam finals in three years after a barren run of no finals in three.

Breaking and making engagements 
Wozniacki confirmed her engagement to McIlroy (see story below) on New Year’s Day in Sydney, a location that the Australian newspaper the Brisbane Courier-Mail rather miffily thought was suspicious given that, by rights, she should still have been competing in the Brisbane International.

Her withdrawal, claimed the newspaper, started “a turn of events which will interest Brisbane spectators who stumped up for tickets”. 

Wozniacki, 23, cited a right-shoulder injury, but it didn’t stop her from taking to the Sydney courts on January 2 ahead of her planned participation in the Sydney International (started January 6) ahead of the Australian Open, which gets underway on Monday January 13. 

“Serving probably is … the worst,” the Dane had explained to media in Brisbane. 

“I just need some good physio and treatment. I’ve been working really well and hard in this off season with no problems. I wanted to start off the year well. That’s why I made the decision to withdraw from here, just because I didn’t feel like there was a need to make it worse before going into the Open as well.”

From dull to just like Nadal
When Wozniacki does eventually pick up a racquet in earnest, it will officially be a Babolat, the manufacturer that she enjoyed success with before switching to Yonex at the end of 2010 – the year in which she first climbed to the world number one spot. 

Her racquet of choice will be the thick-framed Babolat Aeropro Team, the same one used by the men’s number one, Rafael Nadal, and often referred to as the most powerful on the market. 

“I’m looking for a little more power, but also a little more control at the same time, so I should be able to get a little more spin on the ball,” she explained to Ekstra Bladet

As her boyfriend Rory McIlroy knows from his Nike deal, the Yonex money was just too good to turn down, and although she managed to hold onto her top ranking for a full year (bar a couple of weeks in February 2011), the tennis world remained unconvinced by a defensive game-plan that depended more on her opponent’s mistakes than making winners.

Since unofficially switching to Babolat in June (the racquet was spray-painted black to avoid contract issues), Wozniacki’s game has visibly improved, but remains defensive. So clearly her racquet wasn’t the only thing she needed to change.

Going the whole Hög 
Training at the Ken Rosewall Arena on January 2, the correspondent from the Australian was impressed by the effect her new coach, Thomas Högstedt, has had on her game. 

“Sharapova’s discarded mentor was doing with Wozniacki yesterday what he used to do with Sharapova,” he reported. “Getting her to nail forehands, hitting them flat and hard, pausing and surging into them with the leg drive of a shot-putter.” 

Which bodes well for 2014, but it’s surely whimsical to expect Högstedt to make an immediate impact at the Australian Open. Despite it being Wozniacki’s most successful major consistency-wise – she has only failed to make the last 16 once in her last six visits to Melbourne, and in 2011 she made the semis – she is ranked a lowly 12th on the bookmaker lists (66/1 with Bet 365 and Ladbroke’s).

But she does appear to be heading in the right direction. “Running out of ideas, she’s turned to Sharapova’s coach and Nadal’s flashing blade,” concluded the Australian. “They’re not the worst ideas she’s ever had.”