Wozniacki's positivity carries her to quarters
NEW YORK -- A roar from Rory McIlroy came all the way from Europe via Twitter on Monday night in the middle of the nail-biter fourth-round match between No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 15 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova at the U.S. Open.
"COME ON!!!!!!" McIlroy tweeted as his girlfriend, Wozniacki, labored to avoid the upset. Six exclamation points -- so you know the relationship between the two must be getting serious.
Of course, it wasn't McIlroy's tweets that pulled top-seeded Wozniacki through that 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-1 three-hour marathon with 2004 champion Kuznetsova in the Dane's toughest challenge of the tournament to date. It was Wozniacki, down a set and down 4-1 in the second, sticking to her game in a match that once again showed both why she is the No. 1-ranked player in the world and why she is still a long shot to win her first Grand Slam title here this week.
"That's one of her main attributes," longtime pro and ESPN commentator Pam Shriver said. "She's not No. 1 because of her intimidating power or game. She's No. 1 because she's been healthy and she competes well and she wins tight matches, and that's kind of the backbone of why she's there. So it didn't surprise me at all."
Wozniacki parlayed her trademark sunny outlook, formidable backhand and superior conditioning to outlast Kuznetsova, who is in the market for a trainer and said she had not played enough matches to be ready for a three-setter against a player such as Wozniacki. It was a confidence-building match in the second week of the tournament for a player who has taken her share of hits from critics.
"It's important to stay positive," Wozniacki said of her refusal to get down when she is losing. "If I would have been negative on myself, I definitely would not have turned the match around. You know, I'm a fighter. I fight for every point no matter what the score is. It paid off. Tennis, again, it's a funny sport. You have to just keep going."
And that's what Wozniacki has been doing in this tournament. She has not played the kind of dominating tennis that portends a championship. She has simply won and moved on. That's more than a lot of seeds can say after an opening week that saw eight of the top 16 ousted.
"It definitely gives you confidence to pull this match out," Wozniacki said after Monday night's victory. "I felt like I played some good tennis out there. We had some unbelievable rallies at some points. I was moving very well.
"I know I'm in great shape. I'm working so hard off the court, as well. I know I can be out there for hours and hours. It's great to know that, and it's great to know that it doesn't matter how long the match takes. I mean, I will not lose because I'm not physically well."
But can she win a Slam event with the game she has? So far, the answer has been no. Despite being ranked No. 1 for 47 weeks, Wozniacki has never won a major championship. She has made it to only one final, in fact, that coming at the U.S. Open in 2009, when she lost to Kim Clijsters. Still, she has her defenders -- including Kuznetsova.
"I think it's too much talk about it," the Russian, a two-time major champion, said after the match Monday night. "It doesn't make sense to talk about it because she's No. 1, she's [a] stable player. So far, she didn't win.
"But [it's] just a matter of time to see if it's gonna happen or no. She's still a great player. What's wrong if she didn't win a Grand Slam? I think it's talking of nothing."
Wozniacki, too, has consistently dismissed the critics and pointed to her No. 1 ranking as evidence enough of the quality of her game. The questions keep coming, though. While calling the match, Chris Evert, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, knocked Wozniacki repeatedly for not being more aggressive against Kuznetsova. Wozniacki did step up in the latter stages of the match to dictate play.
And Wozniacki is trying to improve her game. After being ousted in the third round of the French Open and the fourth round at Wimbledon, she relieved her father, Piotr, of his coaching duties and went outside the family to find a new coach. Wozniacki hasn't revealed the identity of the coach, who apparently has asked to remain anonymous.
So far, so good. Although she lost in the opening round at Toronto and Cincinnati, Wozniacki won her fourth consecutive title at New Haven, a warm-up to the U.S. Open, and has won eight consecutive matches. This marks her best performance in a Grand Slam since she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open in January. She will face No. 10 seed Andrea Petkovic in the quarterfinals scheduled for Wednesday, though rain might delay that match.
Should Wozniacki advance -- certainly no guarantee, considering Petkovic's consistency from the baseline -- there is Serena Williams likely looming in the semifinals. Williams has rampaged through to the quarterfinals in a singular display of power and purpose as she continues her comeback from a year of injuries and ailments.
"I think, on how [Wozniacki] played and how Serena's playing, Serena beats her in straight sets," Shriver said when asked to look ahead to that potential semifinal showdown. "But you have to keep winning to get there.
"It could be an intriguing semifinal: The most criticized No. 1 of all time against one of the great players of all time who's in the middle of making a great comeback."
No matter what happens, at least Wozniacki has her cheering section. McIlroy and Wozniacki were tweeting back and forth again Tuesday, with Wozniacki congratulating McIlroy for reaching No. 4 in the golf rankings and McIlroy, who will play the KLM Open in Amsterdam this week, gushing back, "@CaroWozniacki thank you! Only trying to keep up with you ;) still 3 more places to go!"
With tweets like that from the reigning U.S. Open golf champion, it's no wonder Wozniacki doesn't give a hoot what the rest of the world thinks about her tennis.