Don't mention April 2008 to Caroline Wozniacki under any circumstances.
In a season that was full of bright spots for one of the WTA's rising young stars, the showers and green clay didn't put too many smiles on her usually grinning face.
After a very productive hard court season, the young Dane headed north on US-95 to Amelia Island for her first clay tournament of the 2008 season. Coming in at world No. 39, she would have to run the gauntlet to get to the finals.
"I really didn't play too good." recalls a deflated Caroline.
She had just been handed a second-round pink slip by Ukrainian Alona Bondarenko, something that Caroline hadn't suffered all season. It didn't get much better either, as she fell to Argentine Gisela Dulko in straight sets at the Qatar Telecom German Open a month after returning to the tour.
When it rains, it pours.
But like any decent starting pitcher, Caroline took the bad with the good and stomached them both. Let's fast forward back to today.
After running off quarterfinal appearances in six of her seven tournaments played, she headed into the clay court season with a few different expectations.
The same kind of expectations as a person who heads to Las Vegas, planning on quadrupling their fortunes. So where does the Blonde Bomber go to help prepare?
As part of an Adidas-sponsored camp, Caroline went to train in the City of Lights with world-renown fitness and conditioning coach, Gil Reyes. She also met up with a punchy Spaniard, who goes by the name of Fernando Verdasco, but you can just call him Hot Sauce.
Reyes knows how to get anyone in the shape of their life. Hot Sauce knows a lot about clay courts. A sign of some good things to come for Caroline?
"After my two weeks in Las Vegas, I feel I'm in the form of my life. The sessions with Gil really helped me a lot and I'm coming back when I have the chance."
She wasn't joking.
Now, a couple months removed from her training sessions, Caroline is walking tall with a clay court tournament win in her pocket and two more finals appearances for good measure.
It's been a bit of a revelation, really.
At the same tournament where Bondarenko dismissed her (now Ponte Vedra Beach), Caroline more than redeemed herself. She won the tournament, defeating Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak, no relation, in straight sets.
But that was only a preview of coming attractions. She also reached the finals in Charleston and Madrid, two feats which would have been absolutely unthinkable a year ago.
"Before I came into the clay season, I really wasn't comfortable on clay. I thought that clay was the surface that I like the least, but after these two weeks I really proved myself wrong." she said in Charleston, almost with a giddy smile.
And that giddy smile came after a resounding loss in the final to German Sabine Lisicki.
But now comes the biggest test of all, the sands of Roland Garros. She's apparently made a heck of an impression on several experts. Steve Tignor of tennis.com even selected her as the semifinalist for the third quarter.
A quarter that includes Jelena Jankovic and Elena Dementieva, no surprise there.
Is clay her favorite surface now? Ask her in two weeks. As for me, I still think the Flamenco dancing.
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