COMMENTARY | If you haven't heard, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki is devastated over her recent breakup with professional golfer Rory McIlroy. Unless she's not, that is.
When asked, Caroline said she wasn't devastated because they're not broken up. When asked, Rory wouldn't say anything. When pressed on the matter, both said they that going forward and they wouldn't comment on their personal lives.
However, sources said they're splitsville, and how often are sources wrong? I supposes in the final analysis, this issue will only matter to people until sources get around to another celebrity couple on the rocks. (Did you hear the Crocodile Dundee stars who got married in real life are not getting divorced in real life?)
Let's get back to Caroline and Rory, both of whom were the top-ranked players in their sports when they started dating. Now both have fallen from their lofty perches and trickled down the rankings, prompting many to wonder aloud in their respective press conferences if their romantic union has somehow presented a distraction to their professional focuses. Both have dismissed this notion and continuously promise better days were ahead. Thus far, those better days really haven't arrived, at least with any regularity.
Regardless of his romantic status with Wozniacki or anyone else, McIlroy is only 24 and has as much pure talent as the greatest who have ever played his game. He seems like a grounded, responsible individual who achieved great things quickly then merely receded just a bit -- he is No. 6 in the current PGA rankings. It's a good bet that he'll find his way to the top of that list again and capture more major championships.
It's a bit of a different story for Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane reached the U.S. Open final in 2009 at age 19 and then found herself the top player in women's tennis a little more than a year later, primarily due to Serena Williams' extended absence because of injury. Wozniacki would hold the top spot for an impressive 67 weeks, winning 12 tournament titles over 2010 and 2011. But she won no majors, not even reaching a grand slam final.
Williams returned. Maria Sharapova began to find her game again. Victoria Azarenka emerged as a top player. Several other players stepped up as well. Caroline began to struggle and lost her top ranking following the 2012 Australian Open. She has steadily declined since, currently No. 9 in the world.
The problem Wozniacki has is her game, which is predicated on fitness and defense. Essentially, her approach is to be a human backboard -- getting everything back until an opponent doesn't get it back. It served her well until other players around her started to blossom, and veteran stars like Williams, Sharapova and Kim Clijsters, all on and off the tour for varying reasons, regained the power and consistency that had made them great. Caroline quickly found she couldn't run everything down anymore. Her results suffered and she started searching for a plan B.
She's experimented with different coaches and a different approach. She's tried to develop a more aggressive game, find more penetrating shots. She's worked on improving her serve and developing a better net game. She continues her bid at evolving, but it's difficult for any player to make dramatic form changes translate on the court. It does happen. Chris Evert realized she had to find a bigger game in order to compete with Martina Navratilova and managed to reach even terms on many occasions. Such successful alterations are rare, though. When push comes to shove, most players tend to revert to what they know best.
Wozniacki would have flourished in a different era when power wasn't at such a premium. Tracy Austin thrived on guile and placement. So did Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario. Back in the wood-racquet days, few players could generate enough on the ball to overpower people.
But today's racquet technology and player strength training has advanced the game to the point where crushing the ball makes the difference regardless of surface. How many rallies of 10 shots or more do you see in the vast majority of Serena Williams matches? No woman has ever played power tennis like Serena.
The remaking of Caroline Wozniacki is a work in progress that will take time and the dedication to change her style and mental approach while accepting the consequences as she goes. She's trying, but she's still largely defensive. It's likely she could remain a top 20 player for years to come with her existing style, as the further down the list of players you go, the less consistency you'll find. But she won't win a grand slam title that way unless she gets a perfect storm of injuries and poor form from players above her ranking.
Caroline's fans should hope for a day when she can stop being the classic tennis retriever and learn to slam the ball all over the court more successfully than her opponents. In today's tennis, that's what it takes.
Ted Williams lives in Emmaus, PA and is a lifetime tennis follower. He spent 20 years in print journalism, winning state and national awards.
- Sports & Recreation
- Caroline Wozniacki
- Rory McIlroy