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End of Wozniacki’s title drought offers optimism

Posted: October 23, 2012 3:23 p.m.
Updated: October 24, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Unfortunately for former World No. 1 tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, her WTA success this year has come at the end of the season and not the beginning.

The Dane won her 20th career title Sunday, beating last year’s U.S. Open winner Sam Stosur in the final of the Kremlin Cup.

Wozniacki has fallen to No. 11 overall, but is showing signs of returning to her top form after also winning her first title of the year a few weeks ago.

In Sunday’s final, she dominated early against Stosur, eventually beating the Australian 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. Despite being in trouble in the first game of the third set, Wozniacki actually fought back to level the match at 3-all, and broke again in the last game when Stosur sent a backhand wide on Wozniacki's second match point.

The impressive win in Moscow looked even better in light of her win at the Korea Open in mid-September. Before that victory, Wozniacki’s title drought had extended well over a year, but it ended in dominant fashion after she topped Kaia Kanepi 6-1, 6-0 in Seoul.

Despite the recent victories, grand slam success is still the elusive gem in her career. After Andy Murray’s triumph in New York this fall, Wozniacki will likely be the player most dogged by a lack of grand slam success, particularly due to her high profile and age.

Her well-publicized relationship with top ranked PGA golfer Rory McIlroy would undoubtedly keep her in the spotlight regardless of her own celebrity.

At age 22, she’s done more in the span of her short time as a pro than most even do in a career, but because of that success, the longer she goes without a grand slam, the more that pressure will build.

Wozniacki has not qualified for the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul, but can actually return to the top 10 in the rankings if she wins the Tournament of the Champions, which starts Oct. 30 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

At last year’s tour championships, she was actually the first to qualify for the tournament, but was bounced in the third day of matches after losses to Petra Kvitova and Vera Zvonareva.

Although she won’t be participating this year, ending the season on a high note would be a significant move for Wozniacki. However, 2013 will likely tell us a lot about where her career is headed.

As Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim recently noted, Wozniacki is not to be condemned for not winning a grand slam. If anything she should commended for taking her defensive, movement-based game and reaching the top.  

With top rank players like Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams relying so heavily on power, it’s almost surprising how proverbial “backstop” players like Wozniacki are able to stick around.

Next season could likely end three ways for the former World No. 1. Perhaps the most unlikely would be a continual slide down the rankings. While she at one time was consistently, at least on paper, the top ranked player, being ranked No. 11 is still an achievement. Youth and exposure to the game’s elite should help her defend against any significant drop. A second option could find her in a role similar to Ana Ivanovic, a former French Open champion and World No. 1 who seemingly can’t eclipse the top five, but has settled into the 11-20 range.

If Wozniacki can stay physically healthy and remain confident, however, she could regain her place among the premier-level players. Of course, a grand slam would certainly help as well.

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