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Saturday, June 25, 2011
Defense doesn't always win titles

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Defensive skills carried Caroline Wozniacki to the No. 1 ranking. The golden retriever, as Bud Collins likes to call her, has put them to good use in the interview room, too.

Q: Does being No. 1 bring more pressure?

A: No, it's a nice thing. I think all the girls would like to be in my position.

Q: Does it add to the pressure that you haven't won a Grand Slam yet?

A: No, it doesn't. I just go out there and play.

Wozniacki, a sunny 20-year-old Dane, is No. 1 because she's been the most consistent of the WTA's players. She has won five titles this year, more than anyone, and the total since the beginning of 2008 is 17 -- Serena Williams is a distant second in that time frame , with nine.

Not many people give her a serious chance for the Wimbledon title, but Wozniacki moved quietly on to the fourth round Saturday with a solid 6-3, 6-2 victory over Jarmila Gajdosova. Wozniacki has dropped only 12 games in three matches.

Here's the catch: Wozniacki has advanced to the round of 16 for the third straight year here, but she has never gone beyond. Wimbledon remains the only Grand Slam event in which she hasn't reached at least the quarterfinals.

Wozniacki's good work guarantees that she will be the No. 1 player at least through Aug. 1, a robust run of 42 weeks. That would be the ninth-longest reign at the top in the Open era -- longer than Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams.

Of course, those players have all won numerous majors. Until she does, Wozniacki will scramble to defend herself, on and off the court. Defense may win championships in team sports, but in tennis it's not enough.

Early in her career, Wozniacki seemed to have the makings of a stellar grass-court player. She was the girls' junior champion at the All England Club, and two years ago she was the winner at Eastbourne.

In those events, Wozniacki was able to handle weaker opponents. On the Wimbledon stage, she has run into some push-back. Last year she was ushered out by Petra Kvitova. Two years ago it was Sabine Lisicki. Both players pound big serves, and on grass that can make a big difference.

Caroline Wozniacki
Caroline Wozniacki is guaranteed the No. 1 ranking until at least August, but will she have a maiden major title on her résumé?

Wozniacki's fourth-round opponent, No. 24 seed Dominika Cibulkova, is not a big server, but her forehand was huge in beating Julia Goerges. The 5-foot-3 Cibulkova beat Wozniacki in her first match of the season, but the Dane prevailed a few weeks later in the third round of the Australian Open.

"We grew up playing against each other in the juniors," Wozniacki said. "So we know each other pretty well. She's a pretty short player. But taking the ball early, trying to be aggressive, returning well. It's going to be a game where I need to keep my serve up. I need to get a lot of balls back and try to take the initiative and make her run."

Even if she wins that match, Wozniacki would be in line to face Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals and Serena Williams in the semifinals.

That's a lot of firepower.

"On grass, it can be the small things that decide a match," Wozniacki said. "And also the serve and the returns are key points at this point."

In each of her interviews here over the last week, Wozniacki has been moved to volunteer that she is serving well. And although she doesn't generate the velocity of, say, the Williams sisters -- who does? -- she has held serve 24 of 25 times.

Another thing Wozniacki has been defending this week is her preparation for Wimbledon. Instead of playing in the grass warm-up events, she opted to play on the indoor hard courts in Copenhagen two weeks ago, her home tournament. She won, of course, but has been asked about it repeatedly.

"I think I've had great preparation," she said after beating Gajdosova. "I came here a week early. I have been playing well. I enjoy playing on grass. So when you're mentally happy on the surface, then usually you play better, as well."

Saturday's press conference was most notable for a discussion of her social life. After a disappointing third-round loss at Roland Garros, Wozniacki spent five days in London. The centerpiece of the trip was the Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United. Wozniacki is a big soccer fan (she was pulling hard for Barca) and is friendly with players from Liverpool. This has generated a lot of heat in the newspapers. Media members pressed her for details.

"Last three weeks I've been in the spotlight, supposedly dating every single guy I eat dinner with," she said. "If I say a name here, then I'm sure it will make a big headline. So I just prefer to be quiet about it."

Even if she wasn't giving up the goods, clearly, Wozniacki enjoys answering questions like this. They're better than the alternative.

Q: Do you think this could be the big one for you here this year?

A: I don't know. I just take one game at a time. I always just do that.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.