Creature vs. Creature: A Surprising Opportunity for Yanina Wickmayer

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Creature vs. Creature: A Surprising Opportunity for Yanina Wickmayer
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Introduction

Dinara Safina.

Ana Ivanovic.

Elena Dementieva.

Maria Sharapova.

Svetlana Kuznetsova. 

These are just some of the names found in the top half of the women’s draw when the US Open began, but none of them are taking part in today’s women’s semifinal.

Instead, we have the matchup that no one predicted, and probably no one at the TV networks was dreaming of broadcasting: Danish No. 9-seed Caroline Wozniacki vs. unseeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer.

To read of Wozniacki’s side of the story, have a look at what J.A. Allen has to say here.



Yanina Wickmayer

The downside of writing about the 19-year-old Belgian surprise is that so little is known about her, even among would-be tennis “experts.”

The upside is that virtually nothing you can tell readers about her is going to be something they’ve heard before. So, here’s some basic information about the Belgian who would be an Open finalist:

Yanina Wickmayer is ranked No. 50 on the WTA Tour. In just the past couple of years, she’s been in a dilemma that perhaps only Andy Roddick can really understand: Her nation’s top two Slam-winning tennis stars had retired, thus turning the eyes of her home nation upon her.

Now, even with the seemingly hitch-free return of Kim Clijsters to women’s tennis, Wickmayer is still, at least for the moment, Belgium’s top-ranked player.

Wickmayer’s mother died of cancer when the future tennis pro was only 9, after which her father relocated with her to Florida.

Young Wickmayer had been playing the sport for a year and a half up to that point, and Florida has been the destination of choice for many a prodigy; her father’s decision, however, had more to do with creating a newer, happier environment for the two of them.

Her cultivation into a top 50 tennis pro was apparently a bonus. Wickmayer turned pro in 2004, but didn’t reach her first WTA final until ’08, where she lost to Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko in Birmingham.

2009 has been her best year so far, as she won the Estoril Open in May and reached the final of the Ordina Open in the Netherlands in June.

To date, Wickmayer has only won one career match at Roland Garros, and none at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, making this by far her best slam result.

Coming from a quarter of the draw rife with upsets, she has only faced one seeded player so far in the year’s Open: No. 16 Virginie Razzano of France, whom Wickmayer topped in round one. In the quarters, she dispatched Bondarenko 7-5, 6-4.

 

Will Win If...

In the words of Matt Cronin at US Open.com, Wickmayer has “a good serve and more than average pop off the ground.” She survived against Razzano in round one and Czech Petra Kvitova in the round of 16 by making fewer errors, but in her three other matches, she won through aggression and hitting more winners.

Against Wozniacki, whose defensive skills drove Kuznetsova and Melanie Oudin to distraction, Wickmayer is going to have to play aggressively. The Belgian simply can’t expect that the No. 9 seed will make enough errors to hand her a place in the final.

Also, while attacking, she ought to play to the forehand of the Dane, which is where Wozniacki is more likely to break down.

Will Lose If...

Attacking her forehand may not guarantee success, but expecting Wozniacki’s backhand to yield is a guaranteed recipe for defeat. Among the mistakes Oudin committed in the quarters was playing too much to the Dane’s backhand, a shot Wozniacki was seemingly content to retrieve all evening.

As both of these ladies are 19, they have not yet met on the WTA Tour, but Wickmayer would do well to forget the juniors, where Wozniacki dominated her.

And finally, Wickmayer has to see this for the opportunity it is, and go for her shots. If she is overwhelmed by the situation, or overawed by Wozniacki’s defense, she has no chance, period.

 

Intangibles

Though her breakthrough at this year’s event may have been aided by the fall of Dementieva and Sharapova to Oudin, Wozniacki has been a known commodity on tour for some time, and therefore more is expected of her in this encounter.

If Wickmayer shows more poise than Oudin did, she may provide the opportunity for those nerves to surface.



My Call

Let’s be blunt: Should Wozniacki win, she would be an underwhelming underdog in the final against Serena Williams (or Kim Clijsters, for that matter). All signs indicate, however, that she’s a huge favorite in this match based on career achievements and personal history.

Wickmayer has what it takes to make this a close match, though, and while I believe Wozniacki wins in straights, both sets ought to be competitive.

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