Wozniacki is tenuous at top

On the outside, Caroline Wozniacki appears to be a carefree girl with a big smile. Inside, she’s stressing . . . and for good reason: No one can prepare a 20-year-old year old for the rigors of being the No. 1 ranked player. The Dane is the hunted one due to her ranking and the dismissed one because of her mediocre resume at the Grand Slams.

Wozniacki has been publicly stating that she doesn’t feel any pressure as the statistical queen of the WTA, but a source in her camp told FOXSports the contrary. They say Wozniacki is feeling the pressure and wants to prove she’s a legitimate No. 1. She doesn’t want to be looked at as an undeserving competitor who just happened to slip into the top spot because Serena Williams has been out since Wimbledon with an injury and because Kim Clijsters plays a limited schedule. She feels like she deserves a lot more respect for what she has already accomplished, but also realizes that if she wins a major all that talk will vanish.

At times, it seems like Wozniacki would rather take a seat in the middle of the WTA bus than be the one to drive it. She grows uneasy when she receives questions that are out of her comfort zone, mostly about how she feels deep down about her status on tour. She’s so guarded that at times it seems she’d be more comfortable outside of the top 50, where a semifinal finish would be considered a huge positive and a first-round loss would just come with the territory.

But Wozniacki says that’s not her.

“Definitely in the position I am now,” she said after she thrashed American Vania King 6-1, 6-0 in the second round of the Australian Open. “I think there’s no doubt about it. I think if you ask any player if they would rather be No. 1 in the world or No. 50 in the world and coming up, I think everyone would pick No. 1.”

Perhaps, though some of those other talented players certainly don’t act like it. If Wozniacki does want to take a major stand at the top spot, she’s also going to have to start believing that she can beat the veteran elite players. The source also mentioned that when Wozniacki fought Kim Clijsters tooth and nail in the final of WTA Championships — really raising her level and changing things up — that had she actually believed she could win the match, she probably would have. Instead, she folded late in a 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 loss

And it’s not just Clijsters whom she fears a little. There’s Justine Henin, the Williams Sisters and, to some degree, No. 2 Vera Zvonareva, who knocked her out the US Open, not that she’d ever admit fearing her.

“I believe that I’m a really good player,” Wozniacki said. “I can beat anyone on a good day. If I win, great. If I lose one match, just back on the practice court, work, and get stronger.

Wozniacki was not altogether pleased with her play in exhibitions and at Sydney in her Aussie Open lead-ups, and now she’ll get a chance to right her ship when she faces 29th seed Dominica Cibulkova, the same woman who beat her last week.

She cannot play afraid and has to honestly assess where her game is and how she can impose herself. She cannot be overly defensive or the compact, muscular Slovakian will swarm all over her.

Wozniacki considers herself a perfectionist, and at times gets frustrated when she not playing as well as she can. But there’s nothing she can do until the final Saturday at the Australian Open to prove that she can back up her ranking other than to drive herself hard and forget her fears.

Perfectionists expect nothing less than ideal play and in order for her to win the title, she’s going to have to be extremely precise. She has to show that she’s as mentally tough as she says she is.

“I think that’s also why I’ve reached the level I’ve reached,” she said “I’m never satisfied. I always want to get better. Every time I step on the practice court, I always see things that I want to improve. I think I get frustrated, but I use it in a positive way. That’s the way I’m built.”

Notes

Venus Williams looked nearly gone after suffering a muscle injury near her groin at the end of the first set of her 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-4 victory over Czech Sandra Zahlavova. Once again, she has become the talk of the Australian Open fashion-wise as she sported what she called an “Alice in Wonderland” top that looked like a piecrust. It’s one of Williams’ craziest deigns, but she’s delighting in it, just like she did in one of her most impressive stats: She’s played more than 250 Grand Slam matches without retiring.

“I really haven’t retired from a match in any tournament in quite a long time,” she said. “I think that’s a testament to how I feel when I step on the court. I’m there to stay. Definitely this being a major I definitely gave it my best.”

For her part, Sharapova overcame the rough and tumble Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano 7-6 (3) 6-3 in a match where she returned quite well, but once again struggled on her serve. She was happy to be tested and come through and now might have a sterner test in the form of rising German Julia Goerges, who coincidently Sharapova chose to wear her line of tennis dresses last year. Both women are hoping to look pretty, but will be more concerned with finding beautiful form. The winner might have the pleasure of playing Venus in the fourth round.

The most intriguing third-round match to come will be between seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin and two-time Grand Slam titlist Svetlana Kuznetsova.