Wozniacki set on silencing detractors

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Caroline Wozniacki was dominate in her second round win over Chanelle Scheepers and has her sights set on her first Grand Slam title.

NEW YORK -- She is 23-years-old, ranked No. 8 in the world and has earned $15.3 million on the tennis court. But that's not what people usually want to talk about when Caroline Wozniacki's name is mentioned.

These days, they mostly want to talk about one specific topic: her relationship with star golfer Rory McIlroy.

Oh, sure, people will sometimes point out that she has yet to win a Grand Slam event. And occasionally the attention will turn to her choice of outfit, such as on Tuesday evening when she wore an Adidas dress with oval cutouts and apparently "caused an uproar." (She wore the same thing again on Thursday without additional drama.) And there was the fuss earlier this month when a famous former golfer, Gary Player, discussed whether Wozniacki has distracted McIlroy from dominating his sport the way people expect he should.

Of course, those three topics are inextricably linked with the first: Rory. Because when you're one half of a high-profile couple, all of a sudden everything is fair game, with a second group of passionate sports fans now scrutinizing your every move. It's as if everyone is desperate to view and understand Wozniacki through the lens of "Rory's girlfriend" rather than of "world-class athlete."

Wozniacki, who once held the No. 1 world ranking for 67 weeks, has developed an asterisk next to her name, a "yeah, but …" that often leads the conversation in a direction totally away from how good she is at tennis, how hard she trains in the offseason, how ridiculously consistent her shot selection is.

Yeah, she's good, but she'd probably be better if she weren't spending so much time with Rory.

Yeah, she's good, but did you see what she just tweeted?

Yeah, she's good, but what's up with that dress?

Yeah, she's good, but nobody will take her seriously until she wins a major.

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Pro golfer Rory McIIroy has been in the stands to support Wozniacki this US Open, while her critics call him a distraction.

On Thursday night, Wozniacki did her part toward addressing that last concern, advancing to the third round at the US Open with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Chanelle Scheepers of South Africa. (And, yes, McIlroy was in attendance.) "I felt pretty good," Wozniacki said a few minutes after the match. "I really enjoy playing the night session on center court. It's a nice atmosphere and it's electric."

Like many tennis players before her -- most notably Anna Kournikova -- Wozniacki has reached that place in her career at which only a Grand Slam win can help put the focus back on tennis, back on her success as a top-tier athlete. After her first-round win on Tuesday, Wozniacki made it clear she still has her sights set on a Slam title, that she doesn't care if people count her out.

"There will always be ups and downs as an athlete," she said. "You know, the downs just make the ups even better. You appreciate it more. There are always so many people who say, 'You'll never make it,' or, 'Just forget about it; it's too late.' But nothing is ever too late, and nothing is impossible. I love proving people wrong."

And she actually has a pretty nice chance to do so here in Flushing Meadows, to take her first legitimate crack at a Slam title in two years. Wozniacki hasn't advanced to the semifinals of a major since doing so at both the Australian Open and the US Open in 2011. In fact, last year she was battling injury and was knocked out in the first round at both Wimbledon and here in New York. But on Thursday, Wozniacki's side of the draw opened up nicely when unseeded Flavia Pennetta eliminated No. 4 seed Sara Errani of Italy in straight sets.

Wozniacki looked sharp on Thursday, needing just more than an hour to advance to the third round, where she will play Camilia Giorgi of Italy. Giorgi is unseeded and currently holds a world ranking of No. 136.

"I think if you ask any tennis player when they wake up in the morning, there is always something that is a little bit painful," Wozniacki said. "But I'm feeling good, I'm feeling healthy, my body is feeling ready to go."

If she keeps winning, Wozniacki isn't scheduled to face a ranked player until the quarterfinals, assuming No. 10 Roberta Vinci isn't upset along the way. After that looms a semifinal date with world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, who defeated Wozniacki in a closely fought match, 6-3, 7-6 (7), two weeks ago at the Western and Southern Open.

When asked on Tuesday if she believes she can return to the finals, which she reached here in 2009, Wozniacki said, "I always believed that. I never lost the belief."

Because she has been a world No. 1 and because she dates a global superstar, she is held to a high standard, receiving equal parts attention and scrutiny.

A Grand Slam title would make a lot of that pressure disappear.

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