She fights. She smiles. She laughs. She has a seemingly breezy personality. Just call her Princess Charming, with the heart of a lioness.
For sure, Caroline Wozniacki is a player who’s going places. Of course, with her game’s superb movement and great defense, she’s already got an impressively-full travel resume after a 2009 season that included all sorts of signposts that spotlighted her upward mobility on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.
The Dane tied for the Tour lead with three titles (including the Pilot Pen in New Haven). She was the only player to reach finals on four different surfaces (winning on three), reached her first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open, and had a year-end ranking of #4. But it was a tournament that Wozniacki didn’t win, or even reach the final of, that might have been her most important of all.
Already possessed with a knack for participating in contests with edge-of-your-seat excitement, largely due to an impressive steadiness while managing to slowly reel back a match that seems lost, Wozniacki topped herself in the Season-Ending Championships in Doha. While she didn’t win the SEC, she was the most impressive player there all week long. Coming in with a hamstring injury at the end of a very long (and hopefully the last of its kind when it comes to her future schedules) season, and forced to play in the excessive desert heat that managed to wilt several other competitors, C-Woz gave it her all, and then some.
Of course, the thing that’ll be ingrained in everyone’s mind will be the memory of a severely cramping Wozniacki crumpling to the court in the final game, up 5-4 30/30, of her Round Robin match against Vera Zvonareva. There she was, flat on her back just beyond the service box, flopping around like a carp at the bottom of a boat as she cried and wondered if she was going to have to be carried off the court. Out of injury timeouts, she managed to climb to her feet and win the final few points of the game to take the match. Literally staggering into the winner’s circle, she walked to the net, a sobbing Danish mess trying to fight off yet another full-body attack of cramps. As painful as the moment was, it was also just as triumphant.
It’s an image that will live in a mind’s eye forever, and serve as a prelude to whatever comes next for C-Woz.
Thing is, that moment was just one of many for Wozniacki in Doha that speaks volumes about what she’s capable of achieving if she can just guard against wearing herself out and develop her second serve into something less cotton-candified than its current state. In her first RR match, she overcame a match point to defeat Victoria Azarenka in a 2:58 match. Against Zvonareva, she wasn’t derailed by blowing a 6-0/5-2 lead with two match points (one of which she won, only to see it overturned via replay), then won the final three games while violently cramping despite having fallen behind 4-3 in that 3rd set. C-Woz pretty much ran out of gas after that, losing in straight sets to Jelena Jankovic and retiring in the 2nd set of the semifinals against Serena Williams.
But it didn’t matter. Over those few days in Doha, we—and she—learned everything we need to know about the Dane.
It’s a player’s heart and desire that must be strong for a contender to be able to morph into a champion. Often times, such champions are forged in the heat of adversity, when that heart and desire are sometimes the ONLY things that enable her to pull herself through a match. Many times, after that single moment, everything changes.
Justine Henin was such a champion. After arriving on tour with lingering issues of worthiness, it was her efforts at the 2003 Australian Open that the Belgian has often credited with instilling her with the confidence that paid off in two Grand Slam titles by the end of that season. That year in Melbourne, Henin found herself devastated by cramping in the intense Aussie heat in her 4th Round match with Lindsay Davenport, only to come from flat on her back (literally… sound familiar?), and 4-1 down in the 3rd, to win the match in a 9-7 final set. She would eventually lose in the semifinals, but the seed that would blossom into a champion had been planted.
Sure, Wozniacki’s passport was stamped a few too many times in 2009, but that overloaded schedule will be cut back in 2010. She needs to add a bit more pop to her groundstrokes (if nothing else, to cut down the length of some of the points in her sometimes-grueling matches, which tend to hurt her ability to push her way through all the tough opponents she must defeat in a major event) and build up her serve, too. But after what transpired in Doha, there should never be any question about what’s inside C-Woz.
When next season’s obstacles present themselves, one would think they might seem “smaller” to her than they might have appeared before her trip to the desert. And for a player who managed to climb into the Top 5 BEFORE such an on-court epiphany, that could be the boost that makes Wozniacki more than a player on the move, and instead a player on top at some of the most important stops on the WTA schedule in the very near future.
The Princess of Charm has a bit of “Princess of Harm” in her. And that’s something from which a true champion can be born.
Todd Spiker resides in the Washington, D.C. area, and reviews the women’s tour every week at WTA Backspin (www.wtabackspin.blogspot.com)