Thursday October 27th, 2011

Caroline Wozniacki will finish the season No. 1 for the second straight year. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

ISTANBUL -- Observations from Day 2 of the WTA Championships, where Caroline Wozniacki won and lost, Li Na amused the media and the WTA proved once again that the entertainment is in the unpredictability.

No. 1 with a bullet: Or is it an asterisk? Could there be anything more appropriate than the often-criticized Wozniacki's clinching the year-end No. 1 ranking based on another player's withdrawal? While Wozniacki was in the process of getting hit off the court by a re-energized Vera Zvonareva on Wednesday, Maria Sharapova was announcing her departure from the tournament (thus sealing the top spot for Wozniacki) and cobbling together praise for the Dane's 2011 efforts.

"It's an incredible achievement to stay at that position for so many weeks," Sharapova said. "She's just been so consistent and has been able to stay healthy and play so many tournaments. That's a great effort."

It's hard to knock anyone who is consistently good at her job. We can all relate. There are co-workers who, when they're focused and on their game, are simply fantastic. And then there are those who show up every day and are more competent and reliable than the rest. A functioning organization needs both and we can debate what is valued more: the flash of the potential superstar who can disappoint, or the steadiness of the worker bee.

Look, Wozniacki has done nothing wrong to deserve the vitriol directed at her for being the year-end No. 1 two years in a row despite never winning a Grand Slam title. But that doesn't change the fact that the thing at which she excels -- being consistent -- isn't what a majority of tennis followers prioritize when evaluating the best players. It may be an unfair system, particularly because the WTA does hold consistency and attendance in high regard (understandably so), but this is the world we live in. Those who are aghast at the amount of criticism Wozniacki receives should recognize that many consider major titles to be the greatest achievement in the game. And those who go out of their way to belittle Wozniacki's talent and contribution to the sport should take a step back. Yes, it is possible to appreciate what Wozniacki has accomplished while still recognizing the things she hasn't. There is a happy medium, everyone.

Predictable unpredictability: The top seed (Wozniacki) lost and a player no one had any hopes for (Li Na) toppled one of the best competitors in the game (Sharapova). Pair that with Sam Stosur's snapping an 0-9 streak against Sharapova on Tuesday, and you have a very unpredictable couple of days here. As a longtime WTA observer, I can't help but smile and say that this uncertainty is precisely what I like about the Tour.

Head-to-head matters. No, it doesn't. Injuries matter. No, they don't. Current form matters. You're completely wrong.

The unpredictably fuels the action, as none of us -- fans, pundits, even players -- knows what is going to happen from game to game, set to set. Don't get me wrong. There's a lot to be said about we see on the ATP Tour, where the top dogs tend to cruise. You get better matchups in the later rounds and you get to see the best battle each other when the biggest prizes are at stake. But while some dismiss the WTA because of its unpredictability, I enjoy the Tour because of it.

Li still in fine press conference form: The French Open champion has the entertaining habit of listening carefully to a question, firing off a sarcastic, joking response and flashing a wide smile, only to settle down and answer seriously with a surprisingly earnest tone. We haven't seen much of this recently because she hasn't been winning enough matches to be a regular draw in the interview room. But I was reminded Wednesday that her brand of wit has been missed.

For instance, when asked about her tactics against Sharapova, Li responded, "Secret, secret" with a grin, before explaining that she prefers not to change strategy from opponent to opponent. And when asked what her husband and coach said to her during a coaching timeout, Li quipped, "I mean, he just show face.  Didn't say anything."

It's difficult to underestimate how important characters like Li are to the Tour. In an age of uber-media-savvy starlets who have been drilled to give canned answers, Li is a breath of fresh air.

Tension breaker: You could sense the awkwardness in the interview room when Wozniacki met with reporters after her loss. The press conference followed a nice presentation in which WTA CEO Stacey Allaster awarded the year-end No. 1 trophy to Wozniacki and the player's mom,  Anna, received a bouquet of flowers. While Wozniacki had just wrapped up the top ranking, she had also just lost a round-robin match and has work to do to qualify for the semifinals. But with her mom, dad/coach and hitting partner looking on, the media seemed a bit tongue-tied, which might explain the dead silence in response to the WTA representative's call for questions. Wozniacki, to her credit, defused the situation. "No English questions?" she said. "This is the best press conference ever."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.