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Beyond the Baseline

Caroline Wozniacki fires back at Martina Navratilova for No. 1 comments

Caroline Wozniacki spent 67 weeks atop the rankings despite never winning a major. (Ahmad Yusni/EPA)

Caroline Wozniacki was wrong if she thought she wouldn't have to answer questions about her elite status now that she's relinquished the No. 1 ranking and slipped to No. 4. But now that she's not in the top spot, she seems more willing to respond to her detractors, even if that critic is the great Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova, who spent 332 weeks atop the rankings from 1978 to 1987, was openly critical of the WTA ranking system at a press conference at the Australian Open in January, a system that rewards the quantity of victories over the quality of victories. "Clearly nobody feels that Wozniacki is a true No. 1," Navratilova said, using Wozniacki’s record against top players as a reason why the Dane should never have been ranked No. 1. "She's No. 1 because that's how they set up the computer ranking."

It was a fair critique from Navratilova and one that was levied more against the WTA than Wozniacki herself. I'm not sure why Wozniacki is being asked about the comments now seeing as how she's no longer No. 1 and the "broken" ranking system seems to have righted itself. The WTA has a new No. 1 in Victoria Azarenka, who has a Grand Slam victory under her belt and happens to be dominating right now.

But just as Azarenka will constantly be asked about grunting and Ana Ivanovic will always be asked about slumping, Wozniacki will still get the Slam-less No. 1 questions. The difference now is that while Wozniacki used to sidestep the criticism (her answers essentially amounted to "People can say what they want. I'm just focusing on what I'm doing and I'm doing pretty well"), now she's hitting back.

"I would never say Martina was No. 1 when there was no one playing," Wozniacki told reporters in Dubai in response to Navratilova's comments, "or that she was the best when no one was playing. That would be disrespectful."

Wozniacki went on to call out the players-turned-commentators who have taken swipes at her, saying that while she respects their achievements, she can't respect their criticism because that's precisely what they're paid to do.

"I think I have to be honest, [I] lost a little bit of respect," Wozniacki said. "Because I respect what they have achieved. [Navratilova] won so many Grand Slams, her touch was unbelievable. Martina Hingis was unbelievable as well -- for me, my favorite player. I really respect what someone else [has done]. I know how hard it is to reach the top level of a sport like tennis.

"When I was No. 1, they needed to make a story so in the beginning when I was coming up, they were saying I was the next big thing. Then when I had been there for a while and it got boring ... then they said she hasn't won a Grand Slam -- because and because and because. Soon it will be if Victoria loses a match, 'How could she lose a match?'

"They always have to make comments, and that's what they get paid for. And they need to stir everything up."

Wozniacki is right that commentators are paid to make comments, and yes, there are some who are irrationally insensitive when it comes to recognizing that the modern women's game bears no resemblance to the game they played in the 1970s and 1980s. But commentators are, on the most basic level, charged with selling the sport and increasing viewership. So the idea that they "stir everything up" and tear Wozniacki down because it makes for good TV just doesn't fly.

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