Monday, September 24, 2012
Win highlights how low Woz has fallen
Caroline Wozniacki and Laura Robson, two women with very different backstories, played in WTA finals this weekend. Wozniacki won hers in Seoul, South Korea, bombarding Kaia Kanepi 6-1, 6-0.
Kanepi is like the subject of that poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "When she was good/She was very good indeed,/ But when she was bad she was horrid."
In other words, Kanepi is the WTA's Ernests Gulbis.
Unlike Wozniacki, Robson stumbled at the final obstacle. She lost in Guangzhou, China, to unsung Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan. Robson hoped to become the first female British player since Sarah Gomer 24 years ago to win a WTA title, but she doesn't need to be in crisis mode about it. At 18, she's the youngest woman in the top 100 and will be in the top 70 in the new rankings.
Wozniacki is a player of a different caliber, of course. Although just four years older than Robson, she seems to have been around forever, and has had spectacular results that rival those of her boyfriend, Northern Ireland golf champion Rory McIlroy. She's been the WTA year-end No. 1 two years in a row, but that high honor rings a little hollow because, unlike McIroy, Wozniacki has yet to win a major title (he has two).
In fact, the title Wozniacki earned in Seoul was her first of the year, and she entered the tournament ranked No. 11, after starting the year at No. 1. So as fine as that win in Seoul was, it also highlighted how far Wozniacki had fallen.
Robson is more like Wozniacki, so you have to wonder what kind of advice Wozniacki, who has 19 WTA titles, might give the upstart Robson, a mixed-doubles silver medalist at the London Olympics.
Let's use a quote by Wozniacki to start. She said after her win in South Korea: "Today I did well at turning defense to offense, and offense to defense. That's actually a strength of mine."
Thanks for the heads up, Caro. But I'm not sure what that really means. Why would anyone want to turn offense to defense and isn't all that just a fancy way of saying that you're pretty good?
Unless Wozniacki's game has undergone a miraculous transformation from the overnight flight to Seoul, I can't imagine that she's been transformed into a dangerous, quick-strike player -- except perhaps in her own mind.
Still, if you wanted to make Robson a champ, counseling her to work on that pre-emptive ability would be an excellent place to start. The tendency to rely too much on defense and consistency (the reluctance or inability to turn defense to offense) has probably been the main reason Wozniacki never punched through at a Grand Slam event.
In order to win, and especially to win big, you increasingly need to be willing to take a chance and pull the trigger on that control-shifting shot when you've been put on the defensive. And you need to be able to build on whatever advantage you do have at any given point by pressing the attack, trusting that your offense will defuse your opponent's ability to transition from defense to offense.
In other words, if in Wozniacki's own words you are going from "offense to defense," you don't really have enough offense to begin with, and you'd better get busy.
Wozniacki also might advise Robson that if she's ever lucky enough to be in position to make a big statement, she'd better make the most of it. You let too many chances slip away, and seek comfort by telling yourself that you're young, and you have four chances to win a major every year anyway, and eventually you get a sign hung on you: "Best player never to win a major." Ever try playing tennis while you're wearing a sandwich board?
Of course, Wozniacki might encourage Robson to work on that serve; having only a serviceable one has left the former No. 1 on the defensive too often against good returners. The results of some veteran players (Serena and Venus Williams and Samantha Stosur) as well as some upstarts (Petra Kvitova, Julia Goerges, Sabine Lisicki) suggest that the era when a woman can enjoy consistent, high-grade success without a solid-to-great serve is coming to a close.