Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wozniacki routed at French Open; what’s next for the world No. 1?

The question of Caroline Wozniacki winning a Grand Slam was once an issue of "when, not if." Over the last few majors, it turned into an "if, not when." Following a spiritless loss to Daniela Hantuchova in the third round of the French Open, "if" just became a lot more doubtful.

The world No. 1 was as off as a top seed can be in the first week of a Grand Slam during Friday's 6-1, 6-3 loss to the 28-year-old Slovakian. Wozniacki failed to put away easy shots, exhibited lazy footwork and took bizarre half-strokes at balls that bordered on indifference. For a player known for her competitiveness, Wozniacki's effort was apathetic, at best.

It wasn't until she broke Hantuchova in the second set after hitting a ball that bounced twice that the 20-year-old Dane showed any signs of life. By then, it was too late. Wozniacki got it to 5-3 in the second set and there was a feeling she might be turning it around against Hantuchova, who's traditionally had trouble closing out matches. A few unforced errors on her serve later, the comeback bid ended.

With Kim Clijsters losing on Thursday, the WTA's Kevin Fischer notes this is the first time in the Open era that both the No. 1 and No. 2 women's seed failed to make the round of 16 in a Grand Slam.

What's next for Wozniacki? She'll retain the No. 1 ranking through Wimbledon, which means she'll hear the same "can you win a Slam?" questions in London that she was asked in New York, Melbourne and Paris. Though Wozniacki won't turn 21 until this summer and continues to play well at non-Slams, the book is out on how to counter her defensive play. For too long, opponents tried to beat Wozniacki at her own game. Now, after some had success this spring playing aggressively and going for winners rather than engaging in long rallies, Wozniacki is getting lost in big matches. She was never close against Hantuchova.

Don't write her off yet, though. She's far too young and, more importantly, far too confident in herself and her talents. A lesser player would be ruined by questions about whether they deserve to be No. 1 or if they can win a Slam. Dinara Safina can attest to this. Such queries seem to embolden Wozniacki. Rather than believing the criticism, Wozniacki has the makings of someone who'd like to prove it wrong. It's going to happen one day.

When, not if.

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