We know most of the names that make their way into the BNP Paribas Open’s stadium court. But for me, one of the real joys of this event is the chance to wander the grounds and watch everything from practice to smaller courts. These are the places where it’s possible to see a player from exceptionally close range. Such spots as Stadium Three at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden have also long been among my favorite venues for seeing rising stars – players who soon enough likely won’t be assigned to those intimate spots.
Rising stars in the women's game, Alize Cornet, Caroline Wozniacki, and Victoria Azarenka.
One such diamond I recently witnessed was an impressive Dane, 18-year-old Caroline Wozniacki. She’s seeded ninth here, so it’s hardly as if Wozniacki has barely generated any traction. At 15 she won junior Wimbledon. Last year, Wozniacki won three Sony Ericsson WTA Tour tournaments, her ranking soaring from 64 at the end of 2007 to 12 at the end of 2008. Along with Victoria Azarenka, Alize Cornet and a few others, Wozniacki is part of a slew of young players making their way up the charts.
There’s a lot to like about her game. Wozniacki has a fluid quality to her strokes, an ability to accept what the ball has given her, decline to fight it and instead wisely mix defense and offense. Often I’ve seen her pressed back behind the baseline and calmly float a ball back with height and depth. But then, on the next shot, a short ball arriving in her wheelhouse, Wozniacki knows how to crack the ball down the line and end the point. She does this most proficiently with her two-handed backhand.
She’s also willing to come to net. Coming of age at the National Tennis Center in Denmark, she was coached by Morten Christensen, a wise ex-pro who fully understands what it takes to direct a player to feel comfortable in all parts of the court (she’s now coached by her father Piotr and roving adidas guru Sven Groeneveld). It’s delightful to see Wozniacki make her way forward in both her singles and doubles matches. As she builds an all-court game, she’s demonstrating that coming to net is arguably even more about attitude than technique. That concept of forward movement and the willingness to use all the landscape of the court is rare in contemporary tennis. If Wozniacki maintains this commitment to entrepreneurial, diversified tennis – and if she becomes a major Slam contender – she could well usher in a shift of sorts in the way tennis is played. One can only hope.
Click photo: Wozniacki’s demonstrating that coming to net is
arguably even more about attitude than technique.
But most of all, Wozniacki brings a distinctive level of attitude and engagement to her tennis. If at times her concentration can waver – as it did earlier this year when she lost a three-setter to Jelena Dokic at the Australian Open after handily winning the first set – Wozniacki conducts herself in a manner at once intense and relaxed. I’ll confess that I get tired watching too many sullen professional tennis players, skilled ballstrikers who let their intensity curdle into an aggregated brand of negativity that leaves spectators disaffected. That’s utterly absent in Wozniacki’s makeup. There is a freshness to her tennis, a sense that she wants to continue improving, understanding and enjoying her tennis journey. Like so much in life, tennis is one of those things that requires holding on and letting go. Hopefully, as her career advances and she makes the transition from ingénue to marquee player, Wozniacki will continue to successfully balance those principles.
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