Caroline Wozniacki might want to be careful what she wishes for. If she does get to No. 1, her storyline may change drastically, and unfairly, from a plucky up-and-comer to an undeserving usurper of the top ranking and symbol of all that is dysfunctional in tennis, especially women's tennis. The questions about whether she's the "real No. 1" will be sure to follow, questions that drove Dinara Safina around the bend and contributed to her total loss of confidence last year.
Wozniacki looks poised to take over the top ranking after winning a title in Tokyo last week. If she can reach the quarters in Beijing, she'll pass an idle Serena Williams for the No. 1 spot for the first time in her young career.
Granted, Wozniacki may not make it there, but as she says, "there will be other chances." Let's nip this line of thinking in the bud, anyway: Yes, she would be the real No. 1, and she would deserve it. She would not be the best player in the world; that's still Serena, who won two majors this year. Being No. 1 is a different achievement. It might not sound glamorous, but it's an honor nonetheless: Wozniacki would be the best in the world at her job. In 2010, she's put her head down, made it through some rough patches and seems ready to end the season on the same high note she hit in the spring. It's not like she can't play tennis with Serena, either. In their only full match, Wozniacki took her to a third-set tiebreaker in Sydney last year.
Even when she was younger, Serena didn't consider trying to be No. 1 or playing to other people's ideas of a schedule, essential to her job. She and her sister have always been about the Slams, like their hero Pete Sampras -- though he also liked being No. 1. Now that she's got 13 majors, she's playing against history rather than the rest of the tour. It's a drag for fans and tournament directors around the world, but you don't think Serena would put any stake in anyone else's rating of her ability, would you?
Wozniacki, pushed along by the appearance fees she can now command, has played a lot of tennis this year. If she hasn't shown she can win the big events, she has shown the resilience of a future champion. The toughness and intelligence below the nice-girl exterior were displayed for most of the two weeks at Flushing. Part of me hopes she doesn't become No. 1, for her own sake -- it would mess with her natural career trajectory. But a bigger part of me hopes she does. Unfairly or not, the pressure will be on Wozniacki to live up to that billing, to make something artificial into something real. I would look forward to seeing how she measured up. She might be tougher than she looks.