By Barry Janoff
Feb. 11, 2012: Tennis is largely a sport about individual performances, but in 2012 Caroline Wozniacki will really be looking out for No. 1.
From late 2010 through early 2012, all but one of 67 weeks, Wozniacki was ranked as the No. 1 tennis player in the world.
The problem was that, despite numerous titles and an estimated $12 million in earnings since turing pro in 2007, she has never won a Grand Slam event. Now, following a loss last month to Kim Clijsters in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, she is ranked No. 4 (having been replaced at No. 1 by Open winner Victoria Azarenka) and still in search of her first Grand Slam title.
Like the classic Madison Avenue line from Avis, "We're only No. 2. We Try Harder," the 21-year-old Wozniacki native of Denmark said she, too, will try harder to reclaim the No. 1 spot and improve her overall game.
"I am very competitive. I hate losing. I'm a perfectionist and I can get pretty frustrated when things are not going well," said Wozniacki during an international media phone conference on Feb. 10. "[I look at this and say] you have to try harder."
Wozniacki was calling in from Doha, Qatar, in the Middle East, where she is preparing for the 10th anniversary of the Qatar Open, Feb. 13-19. After that comes the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Feb. 20.
However, the call itself was in support of the BNP Paribas Showdown, an exhibition match scheduled for March 5 at Madison Square Garden in New York. That night, Wozniacki will face Maria Sharapova, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, and Roger Federer will go up against Andy Roddick.
"I'm very excited to be part of the event," she said. "t will be unbelievable with Maria, Roger and Andy there. I love New York and I've always loved playing there. But I've never been inside Madison Square Garden and I'm really looking forward to it."
Wozniacki sees every tournament, whether sanctioned on the WTA Tour or for exhibition, as an opportunity to reclaim the No. 1 ranking and sharpen her focus on winning her first career Grand Slam.
"Coming out of the Australian Open [and a quarterfinal loss to Clijsters], you always look back and say I could have do this or that better," said Wozniacki. "But if you keep looking at the past you're never going to improve. You have to keep looking forward. I've always worked hard. But in tennis, there are times where you are playing your best and times where you're not playing your best. So you always want to try to find a way to win. You always want to work harder."
Wozniacki said she did get some time to spend with her boyfriend, world's No. 2 ranked golfer Rory McIlroy, who was in the region participating in the Dubai Desert Classic. But tennis and upcoming BNP Paribas Showdown opponent Sharapova was more the center of her attention.
"She's a power player," Wozniacki said of Sharapova. "She uses her height to her advantage. She has gained a lot of confidence after her shoulder surgery. She has confidence in her serve."
"It's not easy to win a [Grand Slam] title. If it was, everyone would do it. It's a lot of hard work." — Caroline Wozniacki
Sharapova is in a situation akin to Wozniacki. Although the winner of three Grand Slam titles, Sharapova's last such victory was at the 2008 Australian Open and she has not been ranked No. 1 in the world since then. Later that year, she underwent shoulder surgery and has been working to regain her No. 1 status ever since.
Also like Sharapova, Wozniacki has a bevy of global marketing partners, among them adidas (including Stella McCartney's sportswear line), Sony Ericsson, Rolex, ProActiv and Turkish Airlines.
She will bring all that and more to New York to help jumpstart her 2012 efforts to win a Grand Slam. The French Open is next (May 28-June 1), then Wimbledon in London (June 25-July 8) and finally the U.S. Open in New York (Aug. 27-Sept. 9).
"It's not easy to win a [Grand Slam] title," said Wozniacki. "If it was, everyone would do it," said Wozniacki. "It's a lot of hard work. You need to keep focused, keep playing well. And do it for seven matches in a row, which is definitely not easy."
According to Wozniacki, "I enjoy playing in New York. That [loud] atmosphere is great. It really pumps you up. It's not like being at a tennis match. It's more like a football match. I like the buzz. But at the same time they are still very respectful. I will get there a few days early and spend some time in the city.
What does she foresee in 2012?
"The best feeling for me is standing there after you've won a match, when the adrenaline is still flowing after a tough battle . . . if you know you've given 100% . . . winning is what drives me."