Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - The Undisputed . . . Winner
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The Undisputed . . . Winner 10/03/2010 - 1:23 PM

Cw Caroline Wozniacki may soon be the No. 1 player in the world. If she does claim that position, we’ll be forced again to  enter the murky existential zone where we try to decide what “No. 1” actually means, now that it’s no longer synonymous with “the best.” I don’t think anyone has come up with a satisfactory answer, except to say that Wozniacki, who didn’t reach the final of any major in 2010, will have done exactly what it takes to reach that spot: She’ll have earned the most ranking points of anyone in the last 12 months. She has played a lot of matches and has been a steady winner of them, two things that the computer likes. It’s just that the computer ain’t what it used to be, back when the players who were clearly the best—Chris, Martina, Steffi, Monica—made being No. 1 part of their identity. Serena Williams, the current top player in the world, doesn’t; she values being, say, the Wimbledon champion much more than what the computer tells her she is. In large part because of that, the Slams rule on the women’s side now, even more so than among the men. Without a prestigious series of events of its own that the players recognize and respect enough to gear up for, like the ATP’s Masters 1000s, the WTA and its Roadmap will continue to stand deep in the shadows of the majors.

What No. 1 means in the immediate future, and how much we should value it, may never be answered. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate Wozniacki's game. We don’t have to focus only on what she can’t do, or how she pales in comparison to Serena. Watching her over the past year, my opinion of Wozniacki’s game has evolved. Last season, if you would have asked me if I enjoyed watching her play, I would likely have said no: I thought she was too safe, too colorless, too rote, too practical and conservative to capture the interest of even the most dedicated tennis fan. Three matches in 2010 have changed my view.

First I watched Wozniacki from up close on a side court at Indian Wells against Jie Zheng. The Chinese woman is a tough and pesky competitor, but Wozniacki was tougher. Her game was more physical, and her manner haughty—in the good haughty entitled way of a great player—than it appeared to be from far off. In other words, she wasn’t as safe and dull as I’d thought.

Then I watched her beat Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open, with a subtle and smart game that, while it relied at its core on consistency, was nuanced at the edges. Wozniacki knew when to put a little more juice on the ball, when to throw in a moonball, when to go big on the first serve, and when to just shovel the ball back down the middle one more time. It wasn’t exciting, per se, but it rewarded the close attention of anyone interested in how someone goes about winning a tennis match.

That was even more true, I thought, of Wozniacki’s performance in the final this weekend in Tokyo. She was out-hit badly through the first set by Elena Dementieva, who appeared to have the one thing that Wozniacki doesn’t, the one thing that has kept her from going farther at the majors: the ability to pop the ball past her opponent from a neutral position on the baseline. The truth seemed to be out: Wozniacki can’t hang with the game’s best ball-strikers when they’re clicking.

The truth lasted for seven games. The trickiest part of winning an easy first set is keeping the momentum going through the first two or three games of the second, when you must start from scratch score-wise. Dementieva couldn’t do it. And she couldn’t do it because Wozniacki found a way to trip her up, to subtly take her out of the game that had been working so well. At 1-1, down 40-0, Wozniacki came up with one of her first winners of the day. It seemed like an innocuous point at the time, but it gave her just enough momentum of her own to begin to take the ball a tiny bit earlier, move up in the court a few inches, and change the direction of the ball a little more frequently. Suddenly, she was up 3-1 and the down-the-winners that Dementieva had been making were sailing just wide. Wozniacki’s game branched out from there. At 4-2, she cut under a neat little crosscourt touch shot at the net, and she broke Dementieva’s serve again with the help of a swinging forehand volley winner.

There are shades of the other No. 1 in the world, Rafael Nadal, in Wozniacki. Neither of them cave in even when the score looks extremely bleak in a particular game or set; part of their game plan is to out-work their opponents, and they don’t stop thinking that way when they’re behind. Each has a hard core of baseline consistency that’s augmented by surprising flourishes: At first glance, you wouldn’t expect either Nadal or Wozniacki to win with touch shots around the net, but they do. Each of them is also very good at gauging when to change the direction of the ball. Going crosscourt nine times out of 10 may seem boring or one-dimensional, but from a tactical standpoint, it makes the one time they don’t go crosscourt that much more surprising and effective.

Case in point. At 3-3 in the third, Wozniacki reached break point. She wasn’t playing brilliantly, but she was doing what she does best: hanging around and making life as difficult as possible for her opponent. On break point, Wozniacki worked the ball crosscourt with her backhand, cutting the angle a little shorter and moving Dementieva a little farther off court with each stroke. When she got a look at a ball inside the baseline, she didn’t hesitate. Wozniacki rifled her backhand up the line for a winner and the break. Two games later, Dementieva’s body and spirit looked broken, Wozniacki had another title, and she’d taken another step toward No. 1.

She isn't the best player, but Wozniacki makes a fine standard-bearer for the game. She won’t appeal to fans of fearsome power-hitters like Serena or Maria, or versatile athletes such as Justine or Kim, or even campy head cases like Vera or Sveta. But like Rafael Nadal, Wozniacki’s court smarts and self-awareness will reward patient viewers and students of the sport. No matter what its ultimate value, being No. 1 means that you win a lot. A player who knows how to do that will always be worth watching, and praising.


 
75
Comments
 

Posted by heythereman 10/03/2010 at 02:48 PM

Agree with everything. Hope Caro has the balls and inner strength to withstand the torrent of abuse and doubt she'll have to face when she gets the #1. What I don't get is that the abuse is always heaped on the player, who didn't do anything but their jobs (and darned well!), when the dissatisfaction is really with the ranking system and the WTA. Too bad. I really don't want to see her sunshiney self beat down by the pressure, so all the best to her!

The Nadal comparison is extreeeemely flattering and a bit of a stretch, though. I'm sure, Steve, you mean for us to take this with a grain of salt? :) He has an innate aggression and ability to do whatever it takes at the big events, and although he's improved immensely in the past few years, he's had this inner winning drive since his teens. She doesn't have that combo of aggression and composure ... yet. Give her a few years and we'll see.

Posted by skip1515 10/03/2010 at 04:48 PM

"Neither [Nadal nor Wozniacki] cave in even when the score looks extremely bleak in a particular game or set; part of their game plan is to out-work their opponents, and they don’t stop thinking that way when they’re behind. Each has a hard core of baseline consistency that’s augmented by surprising flourishes: At first glance, you wouldn’t expect either Nadal or Wozniacki to win with touch shots around the net, but they do. Each of them is also very good at gauging when to change the direction of the ball. Going crosscourt nine times out of 10 may seem boring or one-dimensional, but from a tactical standpoint, it makes the one time they don’t go crosscourt that much more surprising and effective."

99.9% of the world's club players would improve tremendously if they took this paragraph to heart and swore off dropping the hammer too early and too often.

A good read, well written. Not the kind of commentary that gets bells ringing and lights blinking, but true and incisive nonetheless.

The tennis player's Hippocratic Oath: first do no harm to yourself.

Posted by Yolita 10/03/2010 at 07:00 PM

I'm no big fan of Caroline's game (I prefer Justine's or Amelie's), but I have no patience with people who don't like a ranking system that doesn't agree with the way they rank the players in their heads!

I happen to think that in the case of ladies' tennis, Grand Slams are overrated, they're still best of three sets matches, with the advantage of a rest day in between. Surely winning other tourneys is more difficult! Can anybody tell me why it is more difficult to win a Grand Slam in tha ladies' case? With the men, it's obvious that it's much tougher to win 3 out of 5 sets, with the ladies I don't know.

Still, the ranking system being what it is, if it were so easy to do what Caroline has done, why haven't other players done it? They all seem to fall prey to meltdowns, or injuries, or accidents, or maybe they just don't care!

So I say, "Catch her if you can, rest of the field."

Otherwise don't complain that she's number 1!

Posted by ironsheik 10/04/2010 at 12:21 AM

I don't get why people insist on comparing her to Nadal when there's a much more fitting comparison to be made with Hewitt.

Posted by changkho1902 10/04/2010 at 12:22 AM

Not deserverd No.1. She is the boring icon for tennis. Hopefully, she will lose on 2nd round or 3rd round in China.

Posted by TENNISACE8 10/04/2010 at 01:41 AM

she deserves the number 1 ranking because she is the most consistent winner on the women's tour.

Posted by Geellis 10/04/2010 at 01:48 AM

I find the comparison with Nadal frightening. Seriously now. Nadal has infinitely more offensive firepower than does Caro. Furthermore, he's simply a far better athlete than she is. Finally, he has a much more comprehensive array of shots from which to chose. But hey, whatever floats one's boat as they say.

Posted by Drupa 10/04/2010 at 01:57 AM

What is "being the best"?
To be the best is not just about hitting spectacular winners from the neutral position.
Caroline Wozniacki has the best backhand in the game and the best returns. She moves better than anybody, and is more consistent. She does not yet have the best serve, but her first service is getting closer. I too, saw her games in Tokyo. She is not only keeping the ball in play with the forehand, she almost makes as many winners with the forehand now as with the backhand. Being the best is also about having the best head and the best ability to handle the important balls. Being the best is about what you are when adding all the various components of the game together - and win.
But why base the assessment of being the best on a subjective judgment?
Objectively spoken it is quite simple. The game is about winning. Whoever wins is the best. And winning is what the ranking list measures. Coldly and quite (but far from perfectly) objectively. The ranking points earned somehow express the average strength of the players over the last year. However, the ranking mechanism weighs matches unevenly, allocating undue more points to matches won at grand slam tournaments than others, even if the opponents in the various tournaments come more or less out of the same crowd. Although Caroline has not yet won a grand slam tournament she has accumulated more points than anybody else (if she wins the next two games) which is much more difficult the way she has done it than doing it via a few grand slam wins.
Seen in this perspective she is clearly the best - if again she wins the next too games.

Posted by susan 10/04/2010 at 02:29 AM

this commentary has made me realise how little i know. that's a good thing, at times.

Posted by Brandon 10/04/2010 at 02:56 AM

i think that the ranking would be fitting, because it means that a player is the best at the time the become #1, which would definitely be true of Wozniacki. She also has the most titles of any other player this year, and will have won and defended the most points if she becomes #1. Also, I think being #1 would give her that much more motivation to win a slam.

Posted by zoilena 10/04/2010 at 03:24 AM

Yolita, I completely agree with you. It has always been in the back of my head, but you put it down in plain words: women's grand slam rules for matches are the same with any other tournament, except that there is a day of rest in between. Did the WTA ever try to make any changes to that?
Steve maybe you could give us a clue as to how the rules of grand slams have been defined.

Posted by asdf 10/04/2010 at 04:06 AM

she's no were close to nadal, nadal has a dick

Posted by reckoner 10/04/2010 at 04:41 AM


yeah i cant agree w/ this one at all

comparing wozniacki to nadal is a huge stretch no matter how you look at it, and while i respect her game (as well as understand that october in the tennis world can leave a blogger over-reaching for writing topics), its almost tennis blasphemy to attempt to draw comparisons btwn two players of such vastly different mental, emotional, and mechanical complexions... almost apples to oranges really

Posted by noa 10/04/2010 at 04:43 AM

Very nice, but it is really time to address the real questions in tennis; it's been a long time out of school, Steve, but i remind you the media has importent job description: to be a Bulldog, to uncover the truth even if sometimes it hurts.

if it wasn't for a persistent German journalist we would never had known about Contador positive test and the UCI attempt to hide it. he was one of 4 (!!) spanish cyclist exposed within 4 (!!) days. you have to be very naive to believe that somethings like that don't happen in tennis!!

why are there so few out of competition tests? why don't they do BLODD TESTS in OOC tests? how come the results aren't public? and more questions you as a prominent tennis writer owe to ask the ITF and ATP officials!!

Posted by wilson75 10/04/2010 at 05:07 AM

Caro is more comparable to Murray not only in style but in their performances at slams and the smaller events.

Posted by rugged1 10/04/2010 at 05:59 AM

LOL. I have to agree with one responder here that the comparison to Nadal is a bit much. Caroline has a nice little game. Yes, she gets balls back against those players that allow her into the match. But the Serenas and Kims of the game will set the tone of the match and beat her much of the time. Nadal, she is not.

No, in this case No 1 doesn't mean she's the best player in the world. But she earned it based on the point system.

Posted by shaurya 10/04/2010 at 06:31 AM

Steve,
i ve been a lurker here for quite some time,and can say without any hesitation that you write the most knowledgeable,nuanced and inspiring stuff ni tennis
'No matter what its ultimate value, being No. 1 means that you win a lot. A player who knows how to do that will always be worth watching, and praising.'

This perfectly sums up what i ve felt for a long time , not just for Wozniacki, but others yuo could place in the same category with regard to the way they play like Hewitt(although he will be and should be held in higher esteem than C Woz , being a double grand slam winner and overall a player of higher calibre)


Posted by SlothMachine 10/04/2010 at 06:33 AM

As a Dane with Polish descent it's no wonder I am a huge fan of Caro's. I've followed her game since she was a young teen, and it's amazing how she's developed, the former junior Wimbledon Champion. She still has a lot to build on, but reaching #1 in the WTA the way she is about to do, is impressive in itself. We don't have a strong league of tennis players in Denmark and no tradition of top-seed players, so I am hoping to see her prevail in China and win the Aussie Open 2011.

Best of luck to Caro

Posted by shaurya 10/04/2010 at 06:35 AM

yolita,

Its much more difficult to win a grand slam because you will have to beat a fully motivated serena along the way, which is not the case with the other tournaments

Posted by Jonas 10/04/2010 at 06:53 AM

Serena Williams has been injured for a big part fo the season and therefore it is natural that she risks losing the number one spot. That does not mean that anyone claim that she is not the best palyer in the world when she is not injured. However this year she has only won 2 tournaments while Wozniacki has won 5! Would you really argue for a system where the one who whas won the most grand salms in a season should automatically be number 1, completely disregarding all other results? Already now the top players have to include all grand slam and all premier one obligatory results in the 16 results they can include in their ranking points.
The Reason Williams risk losing the number one spot is not because that there is something wrong with the system but because she has been so much injured. Caroline Wozniacki and her father have themselves said that if she reach number 1 this year then an important part of the reason is that Williams And Clijsters have been injured.
Still Wozniacki have done incredibly well, even if there is still a few players out there who is better than her. She has been consistent and therefore given Serenas absence deserve to be number one, even if Serena on top will regain the number one spot
I also remember that many people critized when Pete SAmpras reached number 1 in the world before he had won any Grand Slams, well today not too many claim he didntdeserve it. :-)

Posted by Coucou 10/04/2010 at 07:18 AM

somehow this article feels slightly off beam. Wrong comparisons, wrong analysis..

Posted by davo 10/04/2010 at 07:29 AM

I respect Rafael Nadal a lot, but I find it quite strange that there has not been a comment on his loss to garcia lopez in Bangkok. If it would have been Federer losing such a match, it would have taken the bloggers a couple of hours to post a 'federer is done'-post.

Maybe you guys are on it, but I doubt it.

Posted by Michael Delaney 10/04/2010 at 07:48 AM

This is an interesting discussion. And a bit odd too. Because being number one is not a matter of deserving. Its a matter of winning and counting points. And if Caroline Wozniacki ends up being number one, its simply because sha has been winning enough matches.
Its much more interesting to ask the question: How?
What made this young scandinavian lady win so many matches in such a short time? I think that Steve Tignor has some good conclusions, and I fully agree on, what drupa posted above. I have been following CW for some years now, and I would like to add one more - and very important - point on, what makes her (one of) the best players in the womens tour: Her willingness to train and improve on the weaker parts of her game!
When she is interviewed, she always says something like: "Well I am young, I know I have to work hard, and I know that there are so many things I have to improve!" Lots of players says stuff like that, but Wozniacki looks like the means it. Compare CW 2009 with CW 2010. Her forehand is so much better now. Her 1. serve is so much better now. Her volleys is still not world-class - but much better than last year. Her ability to change her way of playing has improved - she is by far the smartest player of the young generation on the tour. This is vital. She really wants to add new aspects to her way of playing, and thats why I believe, she has a great chance to be the worlds number one, two or three for many years ahead.

Posted by KatChr 10/04/2010 at 08:01 AM

I think a lot of what have been stated in this article is very descriptive and true.

Caroline does serve the #1 ranking - if she gets it next week. She is evolving as a tennisplayer and has shown us all that she can win against the other big players. Yeah she is lacking a few - but Federer also has a problem with for instance Murray - but that doesent mean that people would call it un-deserved if he again raises to #1.

Serena is the best player out there - because she CAN beat anyone if she wants to - but she dont when it isnt a Grand Slam. Basically Serena is only good consistently at 4 tournaments a year. This means that she doesnt necesairly has the #1 ranking - since it consists of results throughout the year, but she will have Grand Slam crowns. Serena knows this and has accepted that for her and her ambitions.

I would compare her to Agassi. Agassi knew that his serve wasnt the best and that his chance to win was being consisted and having long rallies (Read his biografi), which I find very along the line of Caroline. However Caroline is still young and can evolve in many ways. She is working intensly on her serve to become more agressive and on her forhand!

So dont worry - she will have multiple Grand Slam titles to her name before she retires!

Posted by Christopher 10/04/2010 at 08:05 AM

"I also remember that many people critized when Pete SAmpras reached number 1 in the world before he had won any Grand Slams, well today not too many claim he didntdeserve it. :-)"

What? Sampras reached #1 for the first time in April of 1993. He had already won one slam (1990 USO) and the YEC. He would, of course, win two more in the year he became #1. Finishing the year at #1 when you've won 2 of that year's slams is hardly the same as doing it when you haven't reached the final of single slam that year (which is not to say I don't think Caro should be #1. She clearly should be).

Posted by Mike 10/04/2010 at 09:15 AM

You won't see that happen on the Men's side because the top 3 players have not only won nearly all the slams, but play a reasonably full schedule. The rest of the players simply can't accumulate enough points to compete.

Posted by LCC 10/04/2010 at 09:23 AM

You have got to be kidding, such a poorly positioned article, and near-sighted. Clijsters back-to-back wins at the US Open are extraordinary. Sarenna the last few years has been supernatural. Sharapova only going for lines these days isnt worth mentioning. How many female #1s over the past few years? Someone oughta edit your blog.

Posted by tommy 10/04/2010 at 09:52 AM

2 things I like about Wozniacki.
She's always trying. Even when she is off, like set 1 in the Tokyo final, she never just gives up. That's what Clijsters did against Petrova in Melbourne. Nadia is a terrible finisher You have to keep the ball in play and make Petrova earn the match. Kuznetsova also seems to give up too easily.

The 2nd thing is that she looks like she enjoys herself. There's so much rage out there. Like Serena glaring at her opponents and going psycho on that lineswomen. Safina also acts like she's filled with rage. Zvonareva acts pained she loses a few points.

So trying hard and having fun. I think Wozniacki will be a positive for womens tennis.

Posted by pqt 10/04/2010 at 09:56 AM

To be #1 means just that: To amass the most points in the rankings and to be able to do that, be the most consistent and winningest player in a designated time frame.

Posted by Althea 10/04/2010 at 09:57 AM

She is a very good player, no comparison to Nadal (my favorite male player). Her game is closer to Murray. She deserves the number one spot based on consistency and results. Grand slams getyou into the Hall of Fame not No. 1. Let her enjoy the game and the competition do not put pressure on her like the pressure placed on Safina, Ivanovic, and Jankovic.

Article Grade C+

Posted by Master Ace 10/04/2010 at 10:02 AM

Steve,
Very good thread to read. I can see the comparison of Caroline to Rafael as far as not giving up on a point and still work on their game to become better. Rafael already had the power early in his career which Caroline still has to develop. Some posters said that she is more similar to Andy Murray which is also a valid argument.

Now, since Wimbledon 2008, Caroline has made 18 finals(11 titles) in that time frame going 150-48. Without losing her court awareness and mentality, I believe that her serve will still improve along with her forehand and willingness to come forward when the opportunity present itself.

Posted by Christopher 10/04/2010 at 10:14 AM

Althea-- How can someone be #1 in the world and NOT have pressure "placed" on them? I think many of the criticisms of Safina and Jankovic when they were #1 were misplaced, but the pressure is always going to be there, and it should be. (Was there undue pressure/criticism in the case of Ivanovic? I don't recall this being the case, as she HAD won a slam.)

Posted by enzo 10/04/2010 at 10:24 AM

From different perspective:

Can anybody imagine wthat would mean to be numeber 1 in the world in the business/job we all are on daily basis? It is a long, long way to go and for 99,9% not possible at all.

So when you are there, number1, you do not care how and why.
It is just a nice award for a hard work with lots of ups and downs.

Posted by espnalanaldo 10/04/2010 at 11:16 AM

This article is such a disappointment. It is nothing but a-pandering to Nadal fans that by the mere mention or inclusion of Rafa's name would elicit some approval or somehow make it a great essay.

Frankly, comparing Caroline Woz' talents and expertise in court to Nadal is off-base, not even merited. The article on its own can stand without using the name of Nadal. Try it. Excise all phrases and sentences with Rafael Nadal's name and the "homage" to Carline Woz would do just fine.

Apparently, after the aftermath of the US Open victory and career Golden Slam, Steve has to rain on Nadal's parade by dropping innuendo's on Nadal's coaching cheating, mind you, the emphasis was on Nadal cheating, not on Toni, the coach. Nothing but a "National Inquirer" type.

Trying to make some good graces with Nadal fans, are we Steve?

Not going to work, because Steve just unmasked himself. And before long, when Rafa will get his chances at Calendar Slam to bury Roger for good, I wonder where will Steve sing or write his praises to? We will see.

Posted by espnalanaldo 10/04/2010 at 11:18 AM

Or, Steve will start the "tearing down" process of a great champion, then.

Hey, it will get some attention, right?

You think?!

Posted by thbigapple 10/04/2010 at 11:22 AM

I saw Caro play at the US last year. During the entire match I could not help remarking numerous times to by poor companions how much her game reaminds of Rafa Nadal's. I think she was beating Kutzzy that night. She played a clever determined defensive game making few errors and few winners...but drawing enough from her attacking opponent to soundly win. She did nothing extravagant except grinding her opponent down.

Actually as a viewer, I would have preferred Kutzzy win..... or that I had elected to go to the dentist that night, at least I would have had some long-term benefit from my time.

Root canal anyone?

Posted by espnalanaldo 10/04/2010 at 11:25 AM

The beauty of writing without getting paid is that I can do innuendoes with innuendo's.

Posted by Syd 10/04/2010 at 12:32 PM

Phew, Steve, gotta get some fact checkers in there. :) They're cheap, and worth every penny.

Posted by pov 10/04/2010 at 02:47 PM

"There are shades of the other No. 1 in the world, Rafael Nadal, in Wozniacki."

That is so. It doesn't mean that Wozniacki's style, strokes, aggression whatever are nearly the same as Nadal's. Nor does it mean that Wozniacki's style isn't more similar to some other players. It means just what it says and it is accurate.

Posted by Tom 10/04/2010 at 02:50 PM

This is very sad article- we would be talking about Oudin (USA)it's ok,but we talking about Denmark player and it's hard to understand for americans/ number one is about catching the points, if the rest of top ten is in Miami or Monte Carlo and Wozniacki work hard she is still the best player

Posted by Brany 10/04/2010 at 03:22 PM

The comparison to Nadal is pretty hilarious. Nadal has a much bigger bag of tricks than Caroline. He actually uses variety (slice, topspin, flat shots, etc.) along with the best defense/offense combo I've seen. Wozniacki is a nice girl and a decent player; but her game is pretty one dimensional IMO. She rarely comes to net, hardly ever throws in a slice, its usually just hanging back from the baseline and force the error (sort of like Jankovic). If she gets to number one she will have deserved her ranking, but clearly would not be the best active female player (Serena, Justine, Clijsters) are still better.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 10/04/2010 at 03:34 PM

I think that, as tennis has evolved into a sport predicated on defensive ability first and foremoat, we may not appreciate the skills of someone like Wozniacki as much as those of, say, Kuznetsolva or S&V Williams, or henin, or even Clijsyers--all of whom cover the court very well, btw. but who also have lots of firepower and a fair amount of variety (or options) at their disposal.

Wozniacki's seemingly one-dimensional game is much more nuaanced than it appears, I assure you. And, like Nadal (and here's where, to me, Steve gets it right), whose offensive and transitional skills were underappreciated in the first third of his careeer arc, Caroline should grow into her game substantially, and in three or four years we'll be marvelling at the sophistication in her brand of play.

Posted by MindyM 10/04/2010 at 04:22 PM

Steve,

I am normally a huge fan of your blogs, but you have lost me completely with your attempt to compare Wozniacki to Rafa. Are you kidding or what? Let's be real here. You are talking about a Rafa Nadal who has just won the career grand slam at the age of 24 AND the first male tennis player to win RG, Wimbledon and the USO since the great Rod Laver in 1969! Additionally, Rafa is the ONLY one to do this on three surfaces! He has NINE grand slam titles! He has won all of the clay court Masters tournaments in addition to winning RG.

Shall I go on and on and on? I am truly shocked that you would mention someone like Wozniacki in the same sentence as Rafa! What can you be thinking? Although there may be some superficial similarities in their game and strategy of play, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, of significance that they have in common.

Wozniacki will be number one by default, without having won even her first slam. Rafa is in elite company in having regained the number one ranking again. I believe that Fed and Lendl are the only other male tennis players to have accomplished this feat. Rafa is unquestionably deserving of being the number one men's player in tennis. Wozniacki has not yet proved her mettle by winning a slam. Yes, that is the criteria by which we measure greatness, like it or not.

Rafa has not been content to stay static, rather he has worked hard to evolve his game into a much more aggressive, dynamic one where he moves into the court much more often to close out points quickly, has developed a superior game at net and a deft touch with volleys, now has the big serve that can earn him aces and cheap points in critical moments of a match and still has those powerful groundstrokes consisting of a wicked crosscourt backhand that derives its power from the fact that he is naturally right-handed, a powerful down the line backhand and a forehand that is awesome in its depth, power and accuracy. Rafa has so many weapons now and has proved his versatility on all surfaces.

There are only superfluous similarities between Wozniacki and Rafa. She has not even come close to realizing her true potential, while Rafa has already put himself in the discussion as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

You were reaching in this blog. I think it's better to make the case for Wozniacki being deserving of the number one ranking on her own merits, rather than making the absurd comparison to the men's number one, a player who has more than earned his greatness.

Posted by thebigapple 10/04/2010 at 04:57 PM

I agree that that Caro will likely evolve over time...look at how Nadal evolved to his game at the moment. Caro looks a lot like Nadal Version 1 and 2. He is on version...maybe 4 at the moment...If she stays healthy and interested she has a dominant future.

Posted by BrooklynNY 10/04/2010 at 05:06 PM

Seriously, comparing Nadal with Wozniacki is a pretty bad faux pas, almost makes me question if you are accurately perceiving what you watch.

They are nothing alike, lets not even compare "loopy" strokes. Nadal is by far the most aggressive player on tour, people just mistakenly think his strokes are 'loopy'.
When clearly they are just struck just about harder and heavier and with more purpose than anyone.

Sure, Wozniacki may be intelligent with her extremely limited, 1 dimensional counter punching game, while Nadal's game is clearly growing in front of our eyes.

When Wozniacki fixes her h2h with Serena to almost 14-7, beating her in major finals... Than maybe you can mention her in the same sentence as Nadal, but probably not.

What an insult to a player that is clearly better than the guy you(media) were so quick to anoint the GOAT.

Posted by Christopher 10/04/2010 at 06:03 PM

"There are shades of..." does NOT equal "is exactly the same as" or "is the WTA equivalent of." Relax, people.

Though I am amused that one commentor above compares Caro positively to Nadal, Federer, and Agassi. OK.

Posted by M.J. 10/04/2010 at 06:39 PM

Jonas, I'm glad I'm not the only one who realizes that this situation likely would not have occurred had Serena not been on a couple of lengthy injury absences (missing the US Open in particular). It's not like Nadal's two ascensions to #1 where he took it away from Federer who was able to play consistently. Not saying that anyone should blame Wozniacki for taking advantage of the situation.

Posted by Northernboy 10/04/2010 at 06:58 PM

I also think that Caroline's best comparison is with Andy Murray, rather than Rafa Nadal, at least in terms of how their games match up, in fact at some point this year I called Murray the male Wozniacki. However, I can see what Steve was trying to say about their respective mental games.

Like Murray, Caro will always run the risk of being outhit by someone who is on their game (Clijsters, Serena, or even Schiavone, who mercilessly dissected Caro at this year's French). She's also had two really surprising losses this year (though shored up a bit by her ankle) - 2 and 0 to Kvitova at Wimbledon and her awful performance against Zvonereva at the USO semi. But lord she's still only 20 turning 21 and has lots of time to round out her already sound game.

Great previous post from Yolita:

"I happen to think that in the case of ladies' tennis, Grand Slams are overrated, they're still best of three sets matches, with the advantage of a rest day in between. Surely winning other tourneys is more difficult! Can anybody tell me why it is more difficult to win a Grand Slam in tha ladies' case? With the men, it's obvious that it's much tougher to win 3 out of 5 sets, with the ladies I don't know.

Still, the ranking system being what it is, if it were so easy to do what Caroline has done, why haven't other players done it? They all seem to fall prey to meltdowns, or injuries, or accidents, or maybe they just don't care!

So I say, "Catch her if you can, rest of the field."

Otherwise don't complain that she's number 1!"

Couldn't agree more.

Posted by daryl 10/04/2010 at 07:03 PM

"It’s just that the computer ain’t what it used to be"
justine last full year was 2007. At that time she had almost twice as many points as number 2. Since then S. Williams won three time in 2009 and 2 times this year, while being number one. Steve, next time you write about how awful it is that the number one player isn't really the best player don't. Serena can play as many times as she wants. It is the tennis writers and announcers that should just stop their moaning. Maybe if the REAL best player won oh I don't know maybe six times there would be no problem. Please check when in the history of tennis has the BEST player ever ever ever won two times one year and last year only three tournament wins.
"It’s just that the computer ain’t what it used to be" no Steve, It's just that the BEST player ain't what it used to be.

Posted by gottakeeprunning 10/05/2010 at 02:29 AM

I will keep it short and give a reason in one word "Consistency" - that is what the rankings positions are about.

Posted by Ricardo 10/05/2010 at 03:38 AM

After reading I thought very nicely written with some good points. Then I realized you were comparing Caroline to Rafa, which as other have eluded to is nuts. Wozniacki has evolved her game by leaps and bounds but when if she is too play those elite players like the Williams Sisters or the Beligiums she wouldn't stand a chance. Caroline game is solid, she has good technique, moves well and plays great defense but you never really get the sense she's in control against the top players. Rafa on the other hand has beaten everyone on tour, can step up in the big matches and play aggressive, dominating tennis, and he is unbreakable mentally. Rafa has won the Golden Slam, which not many players can say they've done, not even the mighty Federer. As far as the number one ranking is concerned I guess Wozniacki deserves it. The second half of the year Caroline has without question been the best player in the world and although I am a big fan of Serena, she simply does not play enough. I know Serena had that unfortunate accident causing her to miss a whole bunch of tournaments but that shouldn't take away what Caroline has done. With that being said Wozniacki has some more work to do if she really wants the title "the best player" in the world.

Posted by skip1515 10/05/2010 at 07:27 AM

Boy, was I wrong about this kind of commentary not ringing bells and flashing the lights. Steve, you get hazard pay for this one.

Posted by ricardo 10/05/2010 at 09:46 AM

YOLITA 10/03/2010 at 07:00 PM ====> PERFECT !!!!!

Posted by M.J. 10/05/2010 at 10:51 AM

I have a very simple question for those of you who are basically saying Grand Slams aren't greater or harder to win than regular WTA tournaments. If Grand Slams are SO "overrated", as someone put it here, and no more difficult to win, then WHY is it that there have not been many new slam winners in the last several years??? Additionally, why is it that the workhorses of the WTA the past few years (Jankovic, Safina, Wozniacki, Zvonareva, etc) have been unable to capture one of these less-difficult-to-win-than-a-regular-tournament grand slams?


daryl, Serena played more tournaments when she was younger and won many of them, which is why her overall tournament total is so high. Why should she take all of the small tournaments so seriously at this point in her career? She shouldn't; She should focus on her main priority, and leave the smaller tournaments for other top players' main focus (the burden shouldn't just be on #1). In other words, she's been there done that. I'm just glad she's around to elevate the level of competition at slams so they aren't as run of the mill as regular WTA tournaments and most of this year's US "Service Breaks" Open.

Posted by Calvy 10/05/2010 at 12:19 PM

I find the statement that the slam's are no harder to win than the regular tour events silly.

What makes the slams tougher, for both men and women is the pyschological aspect that makes it tougher to win. It the same in the Olympics and just about any other major sports championships in the world.

Athletes in their respective sports know that Olympics, World Championships, etc, are the penacle events in their sports and what they will be most remember for should they win one, and that right there is why you have so few winners in any sport in their most important majors. It's like taking a test every friday in high school and taking the SAT's. You tend to hold the SAT's to a higher regard because you know what it represents, which is a path into a prefer college or university. That's where the physchological aspect comes in and many athletes psych themseleves out because they know what that most important championship represents.

An example would be Michelle Kwan, she's won 5 World Championships, but always just missed it at the Olympics because she understood the importance and that affect her perfomance. This happens in tennis and this why you have so few slam winners. Look at Andy Murray, Jankovic, Safina, Dementieva and Kim Clijsters until 2005.

Posted by Jon 10/05/2010 at 12:25 PM

Well said MJ, couldn't agree more!!

Posted by Normann Aa. Nielsen 10/05/2010 at 12:44 PM

In all the discussions whether Carolines play is "dull", "lacking winners" and "too safe" I think the pundits are missing an important point of view: That of intelligence. If you know yourself and you know your weapons then you of course also should know the limits of what they and you can do. Combine this with intimate knowledge of the opponent (that is called strategy) and a keen eye for the game at _this_ exact moment (tactics) - then you might see what weaknesses you opponent has and draw benefits from it. This is what Caroline does and does better that most of the WTA. Is that a lesser abillity that to be able to throw a killer? In my book this is intelligence!

Caroline has btw, a singular outstanding weapon: Her 2-hand backhand down the line. Nobody apart from Jankovic has a similar weapon. Now if Caroline adds more agression to her game (more netplay) and continue to improve her service then a slam is definitely within reach.

Posted by Master Ace 10/05/2010 at 04:28 PM

"Now if Caroline adds more agression to her game (more netplay) and continue to improve her service then a slam is definitely within reach."

Normann Aa. Nielsen,
Agreed as long as she do not lose her court awareness and mentality in the process.

Posted by Jens Simonsen 10/05/2010 at 11:47 PM

The importance of the WTA rating system and the Grand Slams are exactly what, we the people, make them. Compare Tennis to bicycle racing. For some people (and riders) the most important event to win is the Tour de France for others is to end the season as the top rated in the world. Take a look at some of the Road Racing Blogs around and you will see that different people value winning the Tour de France and some people value being on top of the ranking list. The arguments the bicycle fans are using are the same as those in blogs like this. People are talking about consistency versus the ability to peak at the right moment at the big events. Sometimes we will see an athlete being so outstanding that discussions like this will die for a while, but the discussions will come back as soon as the picture is a little unclear. The bottom line is that some likes the daughter and some likes the mother.
Being a Dane, I’m a little bias; I go for consistency right now! However, I hope to be able, in a few years, to say: “This discussion is irrelevant because Caroline is the outstanding player, winning Grand Slams and topping the ranking list”!

Posted by ks 10/06/2010 at 01:17 AM

The comparison with Rafa is totally uneven. I think you chose the wrong players to compare oneanother. What a pity.

Posted by nikos 10/06/2010 at 05:15 AM

I cannot see why everybody's talking only about Caro becoming year end;s no 1 and nobody considers Zvonareva who in my opinion as a runner-up of the past two majors should be most worth of it

Posted by Master Ace 10/06/2010 at 08:59 AM

Jens Simonsen,
One more win and your countrywomen will be number 1 officially on Monday.

Posted by sheepgirl 10/06/2010 at 09:21 AM

I think Caroline deserves number 1. She is working hard for it. The Williams sisters, and Clisters are only focusing at majors. I believe she will also collect titles at majors soon!

Posted by Master Ace 10/06/2010 at 11:43 AM

"I believe she will also collect titles at majors soon!"

Sheepgirl,
Yes, I believe she will get her maiden Slam within the next 2 years. She has been winning consistenly especially since 2008 Wimbledon where she has made 18 finals winning 11 of them.

Posted by JJ Johnson 10/06/2010 at 11:56 AM

Serena has only played in six tournaments all year, which is typical Serena nonsense. A part of being a champion is in proving your mettle week in and week out. At some point, by virtue of playing and winning so often, Caroline deserves the number one ranking. But I agree with the distinction between number one and best player in the world, but then again, who knows with Serena playing so infrequently.

Posted by Grace 10/06/2010 at 02:31 PM

Yes Caroline deserves the number one ranking because she earned it!
Pete, you are always slamming Serena Williams for not playing enough tournament but if Kim C. was number one you would be all over her with praise even though she has played one less tournament then Serena Williams has!

Posted by ziggi 10/06/2010 at 02:33 PM

Caroline has never claimed she was the best tennis player. But again and again she has told us that she constantly tries to be a better player.
And she has succeeded. She has become better all along.When you become better you win more - and that`s it. Simple as that.
Wozniacki has never "hunted" for the #1 ranking - her objective has been to become a better tennis player.
I really can`t grasp why anyone disregard a player who is getteing better month after month with the result of winning 5 titles this year and getting closer to become #1 in the ranking.

I have a great respect for Serena and Clijsters - and maybe they are the best, but.... the ranking system shows us who has been the most consisting player the last year, not who peakede some month ago and peak once or twice a year. Just like Armstrong in cycling. Was he the best rider? He was the best TDF-rider, but all-year-round-rider? No way.

Finally - Wozniacki is still only 20 years old - just wait. Of course she will win Grand-Slams in the future.

Posted by John Giæver 10/06/2010 at 03:19 PM

Caroline Wozniacki is the best AND the prittiest
tenniswoman in the world.Compare her with Serena Williams? No way!!!

Posted by truedy3 10/06/2010 at 04:47 PM

There is only one way this comparison could hold water - - and that is if you are comparing Caro at this point in her career to Nadal of, say, 2006. The comment by thebigapple on 10/4 @ 4:57 suggests that, as well. I'm not putting Wozniacki down at all - she's got a lot to admire - but we need to see her put in 5 years plus staying at #2 or #1 before a real similarity can be assigned to Nadal. A few of the same characteristics do not a true comparison make.

Posted by Bo 10/06/2010 at 07:35 PM

Im a dane, and as the rest of the danes im thrilled about the succes of wozniacki. but also in denmark there is a lot of critics about here limited game. but image that she only 20 and soon no. 1 and still have so much to improve; slice, dropshots, serve, volley etc. if she able to get that into her game no one will talked about no missing slams.

a lot of these comments is complaining about the comparison to nadal. its true that he has developed more finesse to his game. but honestly....the way he beat federer by constantly feeding his backhand with high topspins hour after hour...thats exactly what wozniacki does. going for the weaknesses of the opponent. they're both defense players, very physical and strong. they go after all balls and their mentally very strong and comes up with their best games when needed. Nadal oftens let the opponent dominate him and making the opponent takes risk. the best example is the 5 set match in australia against verdasco where verdasco had nadal running from cormer to corner...the best man won, but the man making the match was verdasco...

this year he is playing flatter an harder and longer shoots, and he has variations with a backhand slice...he did'nt do that 4 years ago.

you can compare the two players...in 4 years wozniacki will dominate here opponents...like nadal has began doing over the past year.

sorry for my english is'nt as good as you natives :-)

Posted by Jens Simonsen 10/06/2010 at 11:21 PM

This is for those of you who love to compare Caroline to other players. Take a look at this link. There are plenty to compare her to.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_WTA_number_1_ranked_players

This could be fun!

Posted by JJ Johnson 10/07/2010 at 08:27 AM

Pete is right. Serena is not professional. Even she admits that her only responsibiity is to her dogs. Still, when she had to miss the US Open, she said, "I take my responsibility to the Grand Slams very seriously." That, she does do. But, it also shows how every other tournament is not something that she takes seriously, but these tournaments are important, too, in defining a champion. And, Pete is not being hypocritical. Clijsters has played 11 tourneys this year and even Henin has played 10, Serena just 6. As the greatest player of her generation, and I think the greatest player of all time, she should want to represent her sport more often and more responsibly.

Posted by d 10/07/2010 at 05:03 PM

There have been some "questionable" #1 players on the WTA side (Ivanovic, Safina, Jankovic come to mind) where the vagaries of the schedule, Serena's on again-off again Grand Slams-only nature, Justine's injuries/retirement etc .. led to a good but not great player having the highest computer ranking briefly (but somehow unconvincingly). In this case, Caroline does not seem like someone who will be added to that list. While we can debate endlessly whether she's won a grand slam or defeated a top player and bla-bla woof-woof, she very clearly has champion's mettle through and through. She is preternaturally composed, highly competitive, more talented than she seems on the surface (as Steve sort of points out), avoids grandiosity in favor of high-percentage, strategic play, etc .. Basically, in addition to some "sneaky" excellent technique she can call up in clutch moments, she has the technique of winning matches (again Steve kind of catches this), something which is not as tangible as a big serve, but to my mind the most important predictor of greatness in the sport. I think we'll be hearing a lot about Caroline in the upper echelons of women's tennis for a long time to come, and that this day is an appropriate moment marking an initial milestone in what will become her era.

Posted by A New York Nadalian 10/09/2010 at 04:31 AM

NAHHHH!! You can't compare that beautiful sweetheart of Caroline with that cold-blooded beast from Mallorca who will not hesitate to slash your throat in one second when it comes to a major..

I think that comparison fits more with Rafa and Serena.

Not sure if you guys agree with me or not....

Posted by Court1234 10/11/2010 at 07:24 PM

I can't believe that Caroline is being compared (favorably) vis-a-vis Safina or Ivanovic as a bonafide #1 whereas Safina and Ivanovic are being classified as "questionable" #1 players on the WTA side due to the vagaries of the schedule."

Safina within 18 months made three Major finals, as well as a Wimbledon semifinal and won several Tier One titles. Ivanovic on her road to #1 made the finals of the AO and then won the French Open.

Their results over a period of 3 or 4 Majors trumps Wozniaki..who , yes is consistent and a very good player, but whose overall results doesn't seem to eclipse what those two ladies accomplished on the way up.


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