Friday 2 December 2016

Tennis: Time for Wozniacki to shine

Mark Hodgkinson

Published 19/06/2011 | 05:00

In Denmark, she is their sun-buttered, blonde-haired tennis goddess, someone to be chased by photographers.

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"The paparazzi are very intense in Denmark. As I'm not there very much, when I do go back, they hide in bushes, or they wait outside the apartment or the hotel where I'm staying, and they're waiting to get a bad picture of me. And they like to follow me around, driving behind my car," said Caroline Wozniacki, 20, the world No 1 from Odense and the top seed at the Wimbledon Championships for the first time.

Wozniacki's status in Odense and Copenhagen -- a fame only enhanced by her friendship with the Crown Prince Frederik -- is such that there are times when, and this is one of the key stages in the life of a modern celebrity, she puts on a disguise to elude the paparazzi.

"Sometimes when I'm in Denmark I put a hat and some sunglasses on as a disguise. But there have been occasions when my disguise has been so good that my dad didn't recognise me. I have had to say, 'hey dad, hey dad, it's me'. When that has happened I have thought to myself, 'there's something wrong here'," she said. "I've never said anything to a photographer. I'm just living my life normally and it's just a part of being at the top of women's tennis and I just got used to it."

There would appear to be little chance of Wozniacki being stalked by photographers as she strolls around Wimbledon Village this fortnight, especially as the build-up has been dominated by the return of the Williams sisters, and by a rejuvenated Maria Sharapova. The rankings consider Wozniacki to officially be the best female tennis player in the world, but you would struggle to find many people around the All England Club who consider her to be the most likely winner of the Venus Rosewater Dish. Almost everyone would put her behind Serena in the Wimbledon queue.

This is a peculiar moment in the history of the women's game when someone who has played just one tournament since last summer's Wimbledon, and who just three months ago was having emergency treatment for a blood clot in her lung, and who is ranked 26, is considered a more likely champion than the world No 1. But that probably tells us more about Serena Williams than it does about Wozniacki.

Though Wozniacki's success in junior Wimbledon showed that she can play on grass, the fact that she has never been beyond the fourth round of the senior event has meant that she has yet to form a strong relationship with Britain's tennis public. She is a queen without a crown. And if a world No 1 who models Stella McCartney's tennis clothes can ever be low profile before Wimbledon, Wozniacki has managed it.

That could change over the coming days. For Wozniacki's sake, and for the sake of the women's game, she needs to go deep into this draw, to show the casual tennis-watcher that her ranking is not devalued.

As a young girl, Wozniacki was inspired by Anna Kournikova, the great tennis tease who famously never won a grand slam. Wozniacki would always think how pretty Kournikova looked in her cute outfits, and would dream of one day having her own endorsement deals. These days, she has plenty.

It would be wrong, though, to start thinking that Wozniacki should immediately be filed away with Kournikova as a name you expect to see on a thousand billboards but never engraved onto a grand slam trophy. Wozniacki is still only 20, and it is no small achievement for her to have reached the top of the rankings. It is hardly her fault that the Williams sisters fade in and out of tennis, or that the ranking system rewards her for her consistency away from the majors.

Wozniacki is not one to become too despondent about her lot. "Of course, sometimes it can be really tough to lose a match. But I always have two choices. I could either go home and cry and beat myself down and say I'm not going to go on a tennis court again or I could just pick myself up and say, 'Okay, I'm going back on the tennis court tomorrow and I'm going to work on some of the things that I really think I have to do better'. I always choose the second option," said Wozniacki, who opens against Spain's Arantxa Parra Santonja. "If I'm too hard on myself my family help to put things in perspective for me."

To relax during Wimbledon, to ease the tension of being a world No 1 without a slam, Wozniacki may reach for her apron: "I like to make chocolate cakes and cookies." If all goes to plan, Wozniacki will bake her way into Wimbledon history.

Sunday Indo Sport

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