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By Richard Pagliaro

© Getty Images WTA Tour

(October 7, 2010) In the land of the Great Wall,
Caroline Wozniacki has reached the sport's summit. Wozniacki will supplant Serena Williams as the new World No. 1 by virtue of today's 6-3, 6-2 China Open quarterfinal conquest of Petra Kvitova.

When the new WTA Tour rankings are released on Monday, the 20-year-old Wozniacki will become the first Danish player to hold the top spot.

"I'm very proud of becoming No.1 in the world. It's always been a dream for me to achieve the No.1 ranking and today is a great day for me," said Wozniacki.

Serena Williams has reigned at the top of tennis since becoming 2009 year-end World No.1 on November 2nd, 2009. Williams has not played a match since she beat Vera Zvonareva to capture her 13th career Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in July.

Wozniacki will be the 20th World No. 1 since the advent of the computer rankings and becomes the seventh youngest woman to reach No. 1. She joins former World No. 1 players Dinara Safina and Jelena Jankovic in reaching the top spot without winning a Grand Slam title, but aims to change that fact.

"That's a goal; that would be like a dream," said Wozniacki of her major aspirations.

It ihas been a relatively rapid rise for the red-hot Wozniacki, who has registered a 27-2 record since Wimbledon. Wozniacki has won four of the last six tournaments she's entered — Copenhagen, Montreal, New Haven and Tokyo — after winning just one of her first 14 tournaments this season.

The 2009 US Open runner-up captured her fifth tournament title of the year in Tokyo last weekend to become the first woman in three years to win at least five championships in a single season. Justine Henin, who collected 10 titles in 2007, is the last woman to win at least five championships in a single season.

Wozniacki’s 2010 achievements include titles at the Premier events  — the Toray Pan Pacific Open (Tokyo) and the Rogers Cup (Montreal), as well as International tournaments  — the MPS Group Championships (Ponte Vedra Beach), the e-Boks Sony Ericsson Open, an inaugural WTA event in Wozniacki’s hometown of Copenhagen, and the Pilot Pen Tennis at Yale (New Haven).  She has also reached the Indian Wells final, falling to Jankovic, and the Charleston semifinals, retiring due to an ankle injury against Zvonareva.

The ankle injury lingered throughout some of the spring season leaving some observers wondering why a hobbled Wozniacki was continuing to play tournaments, but her commitment to playing a full schedule, combined with her winning streak during the summer hard-court season, has helped her reach the top.

In addition to becoming the first singles player to qualify for the year-end WTA Championships–Doha 2010, Wozniacki is one of only two players (along with Venus Williams) to reach at least the fourth round of every Grand Slam this year, getting to the last 16 at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the quarterfinals of Roland Garros and the semifinals of the US Open.

Wozniacki will play Ana Ivanovic in a match of the future and former World No. 1 players. Ivanovic scored her first top 10 win since May in outdueling ninth-ranked Elena Dementieva, 7-6(2), 7-6(4). Ivanovic, who saved four of six break points, beat Dementieva on the red clay of Rome in May in their last meeting. The 36th-ranked Serbian is projected to rise inside the top 30 when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Na Li tried to press the mute button on Beijing fans two years ago and today she successfully silenced Angelique Kerber, 6-2, 6-0, in 47 minutes to roll into the China Open quarterfinals.

Holding a 4-2 lead, Li ran off eight straight games, surrendering just 12 points in that dominant span, to close an emphatic victory.

"Angelique plays quite flat and I don't like that, but after the first set it was easier," Li said. "I took my chance because I wanted to finish the match fast. In the beginning I was quite nervous but at the end I was feeling good."

Li, whose had a sometime tempestuous relationship with Chinese fans and officials, will play Latvian qualifier Anastasija Sevastova for a spot in the final four. Sevastova reached the last eight without striking a shot as 13th-seeded opponent Nadia Petrova conceded a walkover with a right foot injury.

The tattooed Li opened the season advancing to the Australian Open semifinals. Two years ago, she admonished boisterous Chinese fans to "shut up" when she felt their cheering was inappropriate and disrupting play. She said today Chinese fans are more savvy and understand tennis tradition.

"Chinese fans now know a lot about the etiquette of watching tennis matches," Li said. "They are now able to enjoy watching."



Wozniacki has drawn a crowd at nearly every tournament she's contested this year.

At age 20 years, 3 months of age, the blonde Dane is the seventh-youngest woman to secure the top spot after her tennis hero Martina Hingis (16 years, 6 months, 1 day), Monica Seles (17 years, 3 months, 9 days), Tracy Austin (17 years, 3 months, 26 days), Steffi Graf (18 years, 2 months, 3 days), Maria Sharapova (18 years, 4 months, 3 days) and Kim Clijsters (20 years, 2 months, 3 days).

Signs of her status as a star were evident in New York City last year as Wozniacki reached her first career major final at the US Open and played a solid match in losing to Clijsters.

Wozniacki's growth as a budding brand name continued this year as she signed a multi-year endorsement pact with Rolex at the start of the year shortly after completing a photo shoot for the adidas line of Stella McCartney-designed clothes she wears on court. The player nicknamed "Sunshine" for her perpetually positive disposition came face-to-face with the man who penned the classic "Good Day Sunshine", former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, Stella's father.

"The best thing about the shoot was that I not only met Stella, but also her father, Paul McCartney," Wozniacki said. "I got to talk to him a little, and I wish I had the nerve to ask him to sing a Beatles song for me. Anyway, even without a Beatles song, meeting was something I will probably remember forever. He is a legend after all."

An avid boxing fan who has incorporated boxing workouts into her training, Wozniacki's topspin style is based on her fast feet, counter-punching consistency and fighting spirit.
Wozniacki is a smooth mover and one of the finest defenders on the WTA Tour but lacks the one punch power to put opponents away with a single shot, instead Wozniacki relies on a flurry of cross court combinations to wear down opponents.

Two challenges Wozniacki faces moving forward are:
  1. How will she respond to the pressure and added responsibility of holding the World No. 1 ranking?
  2. Can she pack a bigger punch on her shots necessary if she is to break through and master a major or will she follow the path of former No. 1 players Safina nad Jankovic, who both reached the top by playing a lot of events and accumulating ranking points but never won a Grand Slam tournament?

The lesson a 29-year-old Francesca Schiavone imparted in winning her first career major at the French Open in June is players can continue to progress even in the latter stages of their careers. When you consider the fact the average age of the top 10 player is currently 26, Wozniacki certainly has the time to expand her game and evolve as a player.




Wozniacki has cited Hingis as both her tennis hero and a tactical role model. Like Hingis, Wozniacki is adept at breaking down opponents witih a series of shots, anticipates well and is adept at using her two-handed backhand down the line as a kill shot. Wozniacki is not nearly as comfortable around the net as Hingis was and lacks the dazzling court creativity the Swiss Miss exuded, but at 5-foot-10 Wozniacki is bigger, stronger and more athletic than Hingis and should be able to develop her serve into a bigger weapon.

Interestingly, the player Wozniacki's game may most resemble when it's fully polished, is Clijsters, the woman who beat her at the US Open. Wozniacki, like Clijsters, is the daughter of a former soccer pro, who is empowered by fast feet and the undying belief that no ball is beyond her reach. Like Clijsters, Wozniacki ascended to No. 1 a few months after celebrating her 20th birthday. Certainly, Clijsters is a more offensive player, who can take the ball earlier, is more adept at flattening out her shots and can stand to-to-toe with some of the game's biggester hitters, including the Williams sisters, and come out on top.



Wozniacki is well aware that though she's reached the professional pinnacle there's still much more room for growth. Traditionally, No. 1 players must win a major to solidify their status as a true top player. Clijsters reached the top at 20 but did not break through to win her first Grand Slam until she was 22.

Consider the fact Wozniacki has won titles on every surface and if she can develop a bigger weapon or strengthen her serve she should be on the fast track for major success.



 

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