Is Caroline Wozniacki the Future No. 1 in Women's Tennis?

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Is Caroline Wozniacki the Future No. 1 in Women's Tennis?
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Half a year ago, I wrote an article with more or less the same question. The then-19-year-old Dane was ranked fourth, and many were saying this was too high a ranking for her (also indicated by this author). A week or two later, she was even up at No. 3. 

Now, she is No. 2 and the No. 1 seed for the US Open in the absence of Serena Williams. If she wins, she is indeed the No. 1 in women's tennis. 

Question is, does she have what it takes? 

She is clearly the in-form player going into the Open. With three tournament wins in August alone, any doubts about form or ability should be sidelined.

Two of her wins were in second-tier tournaments, but in winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal she won the biggest tournament of her life so far, including decisive two-set semifinal and final wins against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva, respectively. 

Is she ready to take that last step up the rankings? She seems as ready as anyone to win the Open but has been handed one of the worst possible draws for a top seed.

In the fourth round, she stands to meet many an expert's pick for the title: the resurgent Russian beauty queen, Maria Sharapova. If she survives, she will most likely face either Na Li or another woman who can go all the way: Svetlana Kuznetsova, whom she beat last year in a tight three-setter. 

It doesn't get much harder than that before even reaching the semis. 

Last year, Wozniacki surprisingly made it to the finals, where she got overpowered by a well-playing Kim Clijsters. That match exposed Wozniacki's flaws and gave room for the most recurring critique against Wozniacki's game and her outstandingly high ranking: 

"She doesn't have the game to deal with the big hitters when they are hitting their marks."

In other words, her victories are dependent on others' mistakes. 

Without a massive serve, a massive forehand, or a massive backhand to send off winners at will, that certainly used to be the case. Her trademark was and is her consistency and the ability to make her opponent hit that one extra stroke to win the point—or make an unforced error. 

This playing style sometime leads to big losses, when she meets a player who is on fire and doesn't make the unforced errors Wozniacki is waiting for.

That said, August has clearly shown signs that Little Miss Sunshine is developing some of the weapons she has been criticized for lacking. In yesterday's final against hard hitter Nadia Petrova, Wozniacki made more than 10 forehand winners alone. Her double-fisted backhand is still her signature shot, but her forehand is no longer the liability it once was and that Petrova hoped it still was.

Sure, she makes some unforced errors with it under pressure—but so does every other woman in the game. There is no doubt that she hits it with more authority and that it has more firepower now than a year ago, or even a few months ago. So does the serve, although the second remains a liability that can be punished severely, as Petrova also showed in their game yesterday.

With more weapons to attack with, the perhaps best defender in the women's game (once dubbed "the golden retriever") looks as dangerous as ever.

If she wins, she tops Serena in the rankings. Is she better than her?

Of course not; no one is. Perhaps no one ever has been. But the ranking is not solely about who is best one against one.

It is about who is the most consistent high performer during an entire season.

In this respect, no one really beats the ever-playing Dane, who hardly ever loses early and who has a reputation for playing as many tournaments as the rules allow. 

In two weeks' time, she may be the new No. 1 in women's tennis. Does she deserve it? 

Well, if she goes through her daunting draw of Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Jelena Jankovic, and Clijsters, she's certainly earned it. 

Is it likely? Probably not. But neither was her runner-up last year, and women's tennis is rife with surprises. 

There is one thing I remain pretty certain of though: Wozniacki is not going to fall down the rankings like an Ana Ivanovic or Dinara Safina (the latter largely due to injury though).

Her mental toughness is matched by very few, and that is what got her up among the very best of the women in the first place. My bet is that Wozniacki is steady company in the top five and 10 in women's tennis for years to come. 

Mind you, she is still developing as a player. 

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