The women's tennis No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki defeated the gutsy and hard-hitting Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova — who beat Wozniacki in Sydney just 10 days ago — to pull through to the fourth round of the Australian Open. Wozniacki won the match 6-4, 6-3, but it wasn't exactly in convincing fashion.
Eurosports commentators finished the match saying, "The whole match dictated by the Slovakian," "Surely, she must walk of the court feeling she has defeated herself."
These comments are not uncommon after a Wozniacki match. She seldom outnumbers her opponent in winners, but keeps the unforced errors to a minimum. Today's match was no different as Wozniacki's stats read 11 winners and 11 unforced errors, compared to Cibulkova's 31 winners and a staggering 41 unforced errors. She surely was the one hitting the eye-pleasing winners.
The Slovak was dictating the match, but in a very streaky fashion.
Wozniacki's first match point was telling. After one of the best rallies of the match, Cibulkova wrong-footed the Dane for a clean backhand winner down the line, only centimeters within the tramlines.
This was followed by an unnecessary hard forehand into the net. And a backhand way out of bounds.
Now Cibulkova may have defeated herself, but it is no coincidence that this happens so often to Wozniacki's opponents.
The Dane is the closest thing the women's game come to a human wall. By forcing the opponent to hit that extra shot or hit extra hard for the clean winner, she elevates opponents' error and frustration levels.
The problem? It only works on players who often beat themselves. It hasn't worked on Clijsters so far and will most likely not work Henin or Schiavone in the quarters. Which spells trouble for the No. 1.
Being No. 1, Wozniacki surely could have hoped for an easier draw. Instead she had to go through Gisela Dulko in the first round, the world's best double player who is known for her upsets in singles. In the third awaited Cibulkova, who is by no means an easy third round. In the fourth, she'll meet Sevastova, and in the quarters Henin, Kuznetsova or Schiavone await. By no means an easy draw.
Questioning the legitimacy of her No. 1 position is a recurrent theme among fans and pundits.
No slam wins or slam finals last year equals no legitimacy is the view of the many.
My worry for Wozniacki is that she's not anywhere near the level she's been at after Wimbledon. In my opinion, she clearly earned her No. 1 by being the dominant player in the second half of the year, save Clijsters.
She did that by being more aggressive, hitting winners on both wings and improving her serve. At the moment, her game seems to have suffered a setback and is back to the level of last year's Australian Open — a counter-puncher and retriever without much punch.
A stat early in the second set showed number of forehand winners: 11 to 0, guess who had what.
Wozniacki seems to have lost confidence in her shots. She had numerous opportunities to go for the forehand winner, but never dared and seldom went for a winner on her stronger backhand side. She changed rackets during the off-season and her very mediocre pre-Australian matches seem to indicate that she's not quite comfortable with it. Going back to her old, pure retrieving style seems to confirm that she's seeking the safe route at the moment.
If she doesn't find the more aggressive, more dominating game with which she gained her No. 1 ranking, she's not likely to live up to her seeding — or even get past the quarters.
She has in it her, the question is whether she can find it in time.
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