Before hauling Caroline Wozniacki into the principal's office for a history lesson -- something she needs in the worst way -- let us give praise to this beleaguered woman. She leads the Tour in whimsy, and there is much to be said for that.
You'd never know it of late, as Wozniacki fends off her critics during a regrettable siege of failure, but Caro's sense of humor has provided some of the sport's most refreshing moments over the past few months. She's not that funny, in essence. She lacks the gifts of comedic timing and delivery. But she tries, which is more than one can say for most women on tour.
At the 2011 Australian Open, rather than sit through the customary tedium of the postmatch interview, Wozniacki decided to pose her own questions, then immediately answer them, turning everyone in the room into a spectator. Nice idea, and quite original. Points scored for that.
Last fall, when a severely cramping Rafael Nadal slumped in his chair and then slithered out of view at the interview podium -- a bizarre and somewhat horrifying sight, at least for a moment -- Wozniacki chose an opportunity (the following day) to mimic the scene. She took some heat, and that was
Then there was Wozniacki's exhibition match against Kim Clijsters a few months back in Antwerp, Belgium. After a while, the two began crafting a match between unabashed shriekers (safe to say it was Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka), howling at the top of their lungs on every shot. Brilliant! Such nonsense
It came as quite a shock, then, to hear this delightfully good-natured woman recently suggest that Martina Navratilova is overly critical in her television commentary. "I would never say Martina was No. 1 when there was no one playing," she said at the Dubai tournament. "Or that she was the best when no one was playing."
You would "never say" it? Wait a minute, you just did.
Let's rewind some for a bit of context. At the Australian Open in January, Navratilova criticized the WTA ranking system and said, "Clearly nobody feels that Wozniacki is a true No. 1." She went on to put the fault more on the ranking system than Wozniacki herself. "It's not about deserve. She's No. 1 because that's how they set up the computer ranking." Fair enough.
And let's be clear here: Woznicaki's response is a statement of such staggering ignorance, I can't believe she actually said it. Any self-respecting tennis fan knows that no rebuttal is necessary, but since Wozniacki apparently needs a reminder, here it is:
Navratilova, probably the best pure athlete the women's game has ever seen, played 14 majors before breaking through with a win at the 1978 Wimbledon. The Seventies were the province of Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, Virginia Wade and Chris Evert, and Navratilova learned some harsh lessons, both physical and emotional, before reaching her peak.
Once there, Navratilova faced world-class assaults from all sides. She lost twice to the supremely talented Hana Mandlikova at the majors (1980 U.S. Open and 1981 Wimbledon) and twice to Tracy Austin at the U.S. Open ('79, 81). She faced the up-and-coming Steffi Graf and played her in three of four Grand Slam finals in 1987 (winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, losing in the French). She stood up to the talents of Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles, Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario and Gabriela Sabatini.
To reach the stage of being called an all-time great, Navratilova faced challenges as daunting as those faced by any player today. And she played Evert 22 times in majors alone! Agreed, there was a certain inevitability to a Navratilova-Evert final in their prime years, when the depth of field wasn't up to today's standards, but no one disputed the fact that it would be historically significant tennis of the highest order.
Imagine it: Navratilova wins 18 majors, Wozniacki has none. And yet, Wozniacki dares challenge Martina for being honest and forthright on the air. It's not as if she hacks away at every player she covers. Quite the opposite; If Martina is taken by a player's style or resolve, she'll say so. She doesn't feel the need to "stir everything up," as Wozniacki claimed. When it comes to this particular player, who never met the traditional standards of earning the world's No. 1 ranking, Navratilova merely brings to light what every tennis insider is feeling: a sense of regret over the Dane's unfulfilled promise at the majors.
By the way, if you put Wozniacki in the same era with Evert and Graf, each in her prime, whatever equipment you'd care to use, she would be routinely obliterated by both of them. Just one man's opinion.