Women's tennis has a new No. 1, and her name is Caroline Wozniacki. By beating No. 34 Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-2, she has secured the top spot by Monday morning.
The player she beat could hardly have been more fitting. Kvitova literally blew Wozniacki off the court in Wimbledon's fourth round, where she beat her in a lopsided 6-2, 6-0 match. Avenging the defeat with a No. 1 ranking must be sweet.
Barely 20 years old, the blond and ever-smiling Dane has got herself into an elite company of only 19 other women who've held the top spot—from Chris Evert to Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, the Williams sisters, Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters, Maria Sharapova, and other big names along the way.
Awaiting Wozniacki in the Beijing quarterfinal is a former No. 1 and current No. 36, Ana Ivanovic, who beat Elena Dementieva 7-6, 7-6.
Which brings up the question:
Is Caroline Wozniacki yet another Ana Ivanovic, Dinara Safina or, to a lesser extent, Jelena Jankovic, all of whom dropped down the rankings once they had attained the coveted spot at the top?
Since Justine Henin left the tour as the No. 1, the field has been ripe with contenders, but vain of true champions until Serena Williams regained the top spot in the second half of 2009.
The No. 1 spot has seemed to be a curse rather than a privileged to players like Ivanovic, Jankovic, and Safina.
Safina is by all means the best example. She was constantly questioned by the media about whether she belonged there or not when she wasn't even a Grand Slam champion, and Serena Williams did her best to bring wood to the fire by dismissing Safina's victories in the premier events leading up to the French Open.
Safina crumbled, struggled, got injured, and has never really been the same since.
So, is the same in store for Wozniacki, who, as opposed to Safina, even took the ranking from Serena Williams?
There's no doubt questions will be posed, as she is yet another No. 1 without a big Grand Slam trophy to prove her meddle. In fact, she hasn't even reached a Grand Slam final this year, and apart from her semifinal run in the US Open, her Grand Slam performance has been all but impressive for a world No. 1.
These questions have already been posed by tennis writer Peter Bodo, who hopes she doesn't end the year as No. 1 in a year in which Serena has bagged two Slams.
But is tennis really all about the Slams? Eight weeks a year and the rest is indifferent? Serena Williams has played seven tournaments this year, partly due to a foot injury that now seems to be gone.
By contrast, Wozniacki has played six tournaments since Wimbledon alone and won four of them, two of them being premier events. The Danish counterpuncher has beefed up her game and added more winners to the menu.
She's still essentially a counterpuncher and probably the best defender in the women's game, but the days are over where one would say that she won a match because her opponent imploded. They still quite often do, but it is because Wozniacki is forcing them to hit that extra winner on every single point.
With the four tournament victories in mind, she's clearly the in-form player on the women's tour and by far the most consistent performer this year.
In other words, she's earned the top spot.
Moreover, Wozniacki and the Williams sisters have quite a good relationship off court, so it is unlikely that Serena will engage in vicious attacks like she did against Safina. Not least because Wozniacki admits she's still not as good a tennis player as Serena is, in spite of her No. 1 position.
She's no doubt right about that, but her ranking isn't a fluke. Over the course of the last year, she's been the one stable figure on the women's tour, be it in Tokyo, New York, or Madrid.
Furthermore, the ever-smiling, good-looking, fans and media-friendly blond 20-year old is quite popular if not even loved by the media due to her easy and smiling way. Dubbed with the nickname Little Miss Sunshine says it all, I should say.
Would they question her? Well, of course, it is their job. Would they turn it into an ever-present issue as they did with Safina? I doubt it—perhaps even because they learned something from that incident.
One question remains though.
Being No. 1 entails being the hunted instead of the hunter. On this very Thursday when she reached the top, Serena announced she will be playing next week. Can the 20-year-old Dane live with the pressure of being the No. 1 seed tournament after tournament, or will she crumble?
Recent evidence shows she's way more comfortable at the top than her pre-Williams predecessors. In Serena's absence, she was the top seed at the US Open, and she more than looked the part until she ran into a Vera Zvonareva on fire in the semifinal coinciding with a rare off day of her own.
Oh, and three of the four tournaments she's won since Wimbledon came from a position as top seed, including last week's premier event in Tokyo over Elena Dementieva.
If anything characterizes Wozniacki's game, it is a never-say-die attitude. Her mental toughness in tight matches is matched by very few in the women's game. There's thus no reason to presume Wozniacki will follow the meltdown trail that some of her recent predecessors took once they had attained the No. 1 ranking. She wants to be there and is perfectly able to take one match at a time, forever focusing on improving her game.
As the in-form player with few points to defend the rest of the year, in particular in Doha, where Serena has everything to defend, Wozniacki has a good chance of earning her first year-end No. 1 ranking.
If she succeeds with that, who knows when she will let go of it, as the Australian Open is yet another case in point, where the still-developing Caroline Wozniacki has little to defend and Serena has everything on the line.
Welcome to the new No. 1.