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The game of musical chairs at the top of the pile continues, featuring Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki.
The Belgian enjoyed a short spell as No. 1 before being swapped out by the surprisingly resilient Dane within a week.
The debate—whether the rankings accurately depict the state of women’s tennis—rages on. This does not detract from the luscious blonde’s achievements; it is a reflection of the fact that quantity can sometimes displace quality.
There is something anachronistic about having three recent No. 1s to have not yet won a major.
Caroline Wozniacki has been on a tear since the beginning of 2010’s year-end hardcourt season. But her results at the tournaments that count, the US Open and the Australian Open have been less than desirous. Semifinal exits at both hard court slams to opponents ranked below her showcase a frailty of temperament and skill.
However, she is not the only No. 1 in recent times to have fallen in the field at crunch time.
Jelena Jankovic was top of the women’s rankings in 2008. Dinara Safina—the younger sister to Marat Safin—made the top slot hers in 2009. Neither won a major then or since.
The Serb returned to the top 10 in 2010 and is currently No. 6. The Russian, on the other hand, has been beset by injuries. Her return this year witnessed her bageled by Kim Clijsters in the first round at the Australian Open.
Can Caroline Wozniacki turn the corner?
A comparison with her predecessors in the hot seat might shed some light as to how she has fared so far.
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Jelena Jankovic began her run at the No. 1 slot in 2007. Her second semifinal appearance in a Grand Slam at the French Open was her best major result that year. 2008 was infinitely better; semifinal finishes at the Australian and French Opens and a runner-up finish at the US Open, losing to Serena Williams, ensured that she secured the World No. 1 ranking at year’s end.
If consistency propelled her to the No. 1 slot in 2008, it was inconsistency that undid her in 2009. Defending her hard-won points was always going to be an uphill task.
Fourth round exits at the first two slams of the year and third round and second round exits at Wimbledon and the US Open respectively saw her free-fall to No. 8.
The Serb remains in the top 10. Her best result in 2010 was at the French Open where she lost in the semis to Australian Samantha Stosur.
Jelena Jankovic is, arguably, no longer a front-runner for Grand Slam glory.
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If the Serbian had impressed as No. 1, her successor Dinara Safina had an even more impressive record at the Slams during the two years that saw her reach the pinnacle—in terms of ranking.
The 2008 campaign saw her play her first major final at the French Open. She was felled by another Serb, Ana Ivanovic. Ivanovic would go on to be ranked No. 1 in June that year.
A semifinal appearance at the US Open meant that Safina would end the year No. 3—an impressive rise.
Dinara began 2009 with a bang at the first Slam. She made her way to the final only to lose to Serena Williams in a mere 59 minutes.
Another fabulous French Open followed where she repeated her 2008 feat, finishing runner-up to fellow Russian, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Safina was not yet done. Her best performance at Wimbledon was as No. 1—a semifinal no-show 1-6,0-6 against Venus Williams.
That loss was the last straw on the 6’1.5" camel’s back. A third round finish at the US Open followed when she lost to Petra Kvitova.
Dinara Safina suffered a back injury in 2010. The ensuing pull-outs from tournaments coupled with indifferent performances has seen her ranking plummet to 117.
Caroline Wozniacki first exhibited her intent at the 2009 US Open. Her first major final was a two-set loss 5-7,3-6 to Kim Clijsters, who was unseeded.
Wozniacki’s year was 2010. She ended the year No. 1 with a quarterfinal at the French Open and a semifinal loss to Vera Zvonareva at the US Open among the highlights.
Many believed that, perhaps, the Australian Open would allow the Dane to clinch her first major. But China’s Li Na put paid to her aspirations 6–3, 5–7, 3–6 in the last four. The Dane would have to wait.
If there is something to be said for the Dane is that she has not succumbed to nerves (maybe, just a bit in that semi-final against Na). Her conquerors have had to fight to beat her.
The same cannot be said about Safina.
The Woz’s predilection for defense and the waiting game, hoping her opponents commit mistakes, implies that she comes up short against attacking players at the top of their game.
Can Sweet Caroline make the transition?
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