- Is Caroline Wozniacki the future?
Watching her slog through two long, winding and surprising matches in Doha—she snuck through in three against Azarenka after losing the first set 6-1, then fought off cramps that had dropped to the court to beat Zvonareva—I’ve been struck by a few things:
Wozniacki’s first serve looks stronger, especially the wide one. Unlike many of her peers, she shows you when she’s enjoying it out there—i.e., she smiles. She’s got great feel on her crosscourt forehand. She’s comfortable settling into a pocket well behind the baseline, but doesn’t move forward or take advantage of winning situations instinctively. She reminds me at times of Martina Hingis, another eastern European transplanted to Western Europe, without the cockiness or the creativity. Like Andy Murray, she gives her opponents room either to hang themselves or to find their games; as we’ve seen so far with Murray, that hasn’t been a recipe for winning majors. More important for fans, though, Wozniacki is a gamer, maybe even to a fault. She played her first match hobbled by a hamstring injury. In her second match, serving for it at 5-4 in the third, she looked finished when leg cramps had her writhing on the court. She got up, served with a tear coming down her face, lost a 31-stroke rally, and still won the game and the match.
Wozniacki will struggle against the more explosive Justine, Kim, Venus, and Serena, but she has the persistence and consistency to beat everyone else on a regular basis—there’s plenty of room for a non-head case in the WTA. She doesn’t have the edge or self-regard of a diva who can bring new fans to the game. But that should only make her more appealing to those of us who watch every day. We know we’ll get her best.
- Or is Victoria Azarenka the future?
Thinking about the up and downs of Azarenka’s season, the early peaks and later plateaus, the first thing that comes to mind is that the length of the schedule makes it tough for anyone to be good all year—there are just so many different phases, places and surfaces to negotiate. The second thing is that it’s tough for Victoria Azarenka in particular to be good all year. She can open up the court and put a rally in the palm of her hand, but just when you think she’s ready to finish it, the ball may fly haphazardly off her strings for no discernible reason. If you could put Azarenka together with Wozniacki, you’d have the next No. 1. Azarenka can hit through the court, but she doesn’t have the feel of her fellow up and comer. And while she’s fiercer and angrier than Wozniacki, the Dane may be tougher mentally—hanging in there is pretty much what she does for a living.
Azarenka should have more upside than Wozniacki; she can make more happen on the court. But sometimes her hands and strings turn to stone—the ball kerrangs off her frame. And while Azarenka’s intensity drives her, it also doubles back and undermines her. Against Wozniacki, she stayed calm and let her mistakes go, until she just couldn’t let them go anymore—the anger is always there. As fans, when Azarenka goes out on court, we know we’ll get her best. The question is whether her best may be too much.
I can't wait to see these two duke it out over the next 5 years. And let's not forget Sabine, Sorana, and Alize. Oh, who am I kidding, forget Alize.