SYDNEY – Caroline Wozniacki may be in slightly improved form heading onto the Australian Open than she was last year, but the former No. 1 does not appear to be playing substantially better. The newly engaged Dane is in a happy place in her personal life (she is wearing a diamond the size of the Rock of Gibraltar on her finger, which is the engagement ring that her pro golfer fiancée Rory McIlroy gave her), but she can’t be terribly pleased about her career, as she is struggling to beat very good players. After pulling out of Brisbane due to shoulder injury, she decided to played the Apia Sydney International, taking out Julia Goerges in three sets on Monday night, but then falling 6-4 7-6 (7) to Lucie Safarova on Tuesday afternoon.
The lefty Czech has cracked the top 20 before and is no pushover, but under a new coach, Thomas Hogstedt, No. 10 Wozniacki did not look much better than last season. Her serve is rarely a weapon, her forehand doesn’t have enough depth or pop and her style is currently is one of “tweener:” stuck between playing standout defense and headstrong offense. Her defense is still there – that’s what brought her to the No. 1 ranking – but her offense is still a work in progress. Her forehand has improved, but she still has trouble hitting it for winners and she can’t belt it down the line. Her flat first serve is pretty decent, but her slice and kicker are nothing to write home about. She isn’t a bad volleyer, but does not attack the cords enough. She is an accurate return of server. but doesn’t take an enough big rips at the ball.
She held four set points in the tiebreaker and had she won one of those, the lefty Safarova might have faded in the third set. Wozniacki could have pushed herself harder in rallies and taken more risks, but she didn’t see it that way.
“The first one we have a really long, good rally and I really felt like I put pressure on her there. She just really stepped it up and won that point,” Wozniacki said. “She served me to the backhand where I miss‑timed it a little bit and missed it by a little. And then I served on the third set point, and again we have a very long rally. Again I felt like I put pressure on her, and then it was going back and forth. I think it was at least 12 or 15 shots going back and forth. You know, again, she hit the line a few times as well. Just unlucky really. Fourth one I had a chance. She served a second serve but it attacked me right in the body. I misread the ball a little bit and it got too close to my body. Yeah, unlucky really. I feel like I did everything right. What I could have done, maybe one of the returns of the returns if I had returned it differently, but, again, you can always say that.”
If the Dane feels she was just unlucky, than maybe that will aid her confidence headed into Melbourne, the one Grand Slam tournament that perhaps she should have won back in 2011, when she held a match point against Li Na in the semis and then pushed the ball around in a three set loss. She says she feels good going into the 2014 edition, which begins next week. Perhaps she make a mini run, or maybe her campaign will end in the fourth round, like it did last year when she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Against Safarova, she looked no better than a potential quarterfinalist, but she doesn’t seem to feel that way.
“I played two matches here then I get a few days over there and get to play a few sets as well with some of the girls and with different types players,” she said. “I should be ready for Melbourne. I just need to push hard and I need to serve and return well. I think those are the keys. Then obviously try to put the pressure on the opponent.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY Defending champion Bernard Tomic discussed having his banned father and coach John be allowed back on a site this year. John Tomic, who was banned from the tour last May for assaulting his son’s former hitting partner, was allowed to attend Bernard’s 6-3 6-0 wipe out of Marcel Granollers as a fan on Tuesday. “Having my dad there a very good feeling. Obviously winning my first title here gives a lot of memories to me. I’m happy the way I played today. Having my dad there for the first time in a while, it’s good. I know his ban will finish very soon, in a few months, and back to helping me. I’m happy. Today that was the position. I played very good. Felt very good. I’m happy to be back playing like this.”
DEVELOPMENT OF THE DAY The US men continue to struggle Down Under, with qualifier Ryan Harrison falling to Nicolas Mahut and Lucky Loser Albert Ramos of Spain upending Sam Querrey. There are no US men left in the Sydney singles draw.
What to watch for on Wednesday American veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands takes on US teenager Madison Keys, whom she mentors a bit. “She’s a great upcoming player,” said Mattek Sands “Plays aggressive shots, big serve. “She goes for her shots. She’s not afraid.”