Wozniacki must summon the fierceness
Last month in Charleston, S.C., Piotr Wozniacki, the father and coach of the women's world No. 1, had an exploratory chat with Martina Navratilova. They discussed an intriguing liaison between today's best defender and one of the game's most explosive offensive players ever.
"I would love to think that Martina could inject all kinds of aggression into [Caroline] Wozniacki," said analyst Mary Carillo, who will work the upcoming French Open for NBC and Tennis Channel. "But if the first thing she does is give her a more reliable, forceful serve, well, that would be terrific.
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"Caroline's a lover of the long point, and she doesn't have to be. There are many times when you're thinking, 'Just pull the trigger, already.' She's heard from any number of people that she needs to add aggression to her game … maybe it would take somebody like Martina to have it kick in."
Wozniacki, 20, will be among the favorites at Roland Garros, but back-to-back losses to 22-year-old German Julia Goerges in a span of two weeks and a defeat to Maria Sharapova last week in the semifinals at Rome have raised some red flags. She's been the most consistent on the women's side for a year now, but she's also the player with the most weeks at No. 1 (31) never to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Until Wozniacki's game becomes more offensive, that streak likely will continue.
This French Open -- minus the two active leaders in major victories, Serena Williams (13) and Kim Clijsters (4), and retired four-time Roland Garros champion Justine Henin -- represents her best chance so far to break through.
While Rafael Nadal, seeking his sixth title in seven years, and Novak Djokovic -- who beat Rafa on clay twice in eight days -- are the favorites on the men's side, Wozniacki, for many, is the default choice on the women's side.
"The storyline?" ESPN analyst Darren Cahill asked. "There has never been a more open female draw."
The past three winners at Roland Garros are in the field, but does anyone really believe they can summon the fierceness of the seven matches that forged their names on the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen?
Last year, it was Francesca Schiavone, whose brilliant run through the field -- and kissing of the red clay -- brought tears to many eyes. She hasn't won a tournament since and is hovering around .500 this year (10-9 through Stuttgart). Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion, does have a 30-7 career record at Roland Garros, but she defended her championship last year by crashing out in the third round and has been awful so far this year on clay. Ana Ivanovic? The 2008 title remains her only major. The only other active major winner, Sharapova, has never reached the French Open final.
In losing the Stuttgart final to Goerges, 7-6 (3), 6-3, Wozniacki lapsed into her typical retrieving game. But Goerges had more offense, hitting 38 winners, compared to just nine for Wozniacki.
"When you have played a certain type of tennis your whole career, you tend to fall back on it," Cahill said. "You never see Rafa wait for ball to come to him. He takes two or three little steps and crushes it."
Said former top-10 player Todd Martin, a student of the game, "She's one that I think could be more ambitious with where she wants to hit the ball. There's a mentality that I think reverts pretty deep: 'I cannot miss.' It's a great trait, but it's also a very dangerous trait, limiting trait, constantly playing depending on the other guy to miss."
"I presume she wouldn't mind to win some points sooner," he said, laughing. "I believe that's in the back of their heads. The thing to remember is that she delivers week after week. She's the best player on the planet at the moment."
After losing her semifinal match to Li Na at the Australian Open, Wozniacki stayed to watch the men's semifinal match between Andy Murray and David Ferrer. She noted how both players were capable of switching from defense to offense in a single stroke, an aggressiveness she knows would benefit her game.
Supreme confidence, said legendary coach Nick Bollettieri, is what's missing from Wozniacki's game.
"You don't be on the court with Pete Sampras," Bollettieri said. "In his prime, no one wants to be in Tiger Woods' foursome. Caroline hasn't totally won the respect of everyone. They try to throw those heavy balls and jerk her around a little bit, get her out of her comfort zone.
"[Samantha] Stosur, Zvonareva, Schiavone -- those are the people who can be there the last weekend. Can Caroline do it? I believe it will depend on her serve."
Martin, for one, is intrigued by the possibility of a Navratilova-Wozniacki collaboration.
"You don't need to erase the chalkboard and start over," said Martin, who briefly worked with Djokovic. "It's subtle adjustments in training methods. I would think you could get her to be aware of the benefits of playing more aggressively and start to recognize when it's appropriate. Trench-digging in the back of the court -- that is the right way for her to play -- just not every day."
Said Cahill, "Over the course of time, she'll be a better player. She's only 20. I definitely think she'll win multiple Slams."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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