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By Franklin L. Johnson

© Mark Peterson/Corleve

(January 9, 2011) Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova have each switched sticks at the start of this season and they will be trading places by the end of the year.

When Wozniacki whipped Sharapova, 6-3, 6-4, in the US Open fourth round last September, many viewed it as a changing of the championship guard with the bubbly, blond Dane supplanting the Siberian-born stunner as tennis' total package of a major champion with a model's good looks and an abundance of marketing muscle.

I'm hear to tell you: don't believe the media hype.

World No. 1. Wozniacki, whose family tree is rooted in soccer, proved defense can carry her to the top of tennis and deserves credit for being the first Dane to secure the top spot at the age of 20.

Caroline, in my view, is still a work in progress and must improve her offense if she is to win a major title.

Despite her shoulder surgeries and elbow injury, Maria Sharapova remains one of the most explosive offensive forces in women's tennis and that's one reason why I believe Maria and Caroline will be two players heading in opposite directions this season: I see the 18th-ranked Sharapova bursting back to the top 10 and Wozniacki tumbling out of the top 5.

If you think the cold spell that has blanketed the northeast has struck me with a case of brain freeze, think again.

Caro made the switch from Babolat to Yonex in the offseason and has been slammed in successive exhibition losses to Kim Clijsters and Vera Zvonareva.

Wozniacki of  will have to deal with the pressure of defending the World No. 1 ranking and all those ranking points and the Big Babes who don't think she's in their senior class.

The brutal truth is: Caro is a crib critter or Baby Babe. She's a sweet young lady and a personable presence who always plays hard, but let's face facts: Wozniacki is a smooth mover  with great groundies and little else.

You know the rest of the tour noticed Super Mom Kim spanked this tyke and sent her to the showers. Now, you'll probably say this is just one match. I'll have to agree with you. But Vera Zvonareva gave Caro such a thorough thrashing in their exhibition clash I say recovering from this ravaging loss will be a tough task for the Marshmallow Princess because the pressure will be on big time.  I say this loss is a bad omen because it sent the Tour's early message that No. 1 is clearly not the best player on the planet.

Caro is vulnerable.

Wozniacki has the star power: the sunny smile, the fresh good looks, the athletic DNA thanks to her soccer-playing father and the generally genial, good-girl-next door image that's great for our game. It's all good. But get past the promo material to the player.

I'm not sold on Caroline as a big-time champion until she develops a big-time shot. C-Woz's game is based on the junior principle: tennis matches are not won on winners they are lost on errors. Consequently, C-Woz takes the "low risk, solid reward" approach and that will consistently get her to the quarters and semis but until she's willing to step up and play big time in the big matches she won't win a major.

In fact, I say Sharapova wins a major before Wozniacki does.

Stop laughing and stop drinking the "Sharapova is toast" Kool Aid.

I wrote this in a column last season and I will repeat it here: As for all the talk about Maria's serve being shot, more malarkey.

There's nothing wrong with Masha's serve that a little more confidence couldn't cure. Maria could easily play with a little more spin on the second serve (she hit one of the flattest second serve of virtually any too player) and remedy the double fault dilemma, but the bigger issue is Masha must get the serve back to where it's a weapon like it was when she schooled Ana Ivanovic in the Australian Open final.

Maria Sharapova still has the skills and the explosive game to blow virtually any woman not named Serena off the court. Maria Sharapova is a three-time Grand Slam champion who knows what it takes to win and is determined to get back to the top 10.

Sharapova made the switch from Prince to a Head racquet last year and that should alleviate some stress on her right arm. If Maria stays healthy, she will be a factor in Melbourne and remember: since she was bounced out of Oz by Maria Kirilenko in her opener last January, Sharapova stands to gain major ground with a deep run into the second week later this month.

Watch for Maria to rise again and Caro to falter. The Russian Ice Princess possesses the firepower the Danish Marshmallow Queen lacks to reclaim a Grand Slam crown and I say 2011 is the year she does it.

Tennis Now contributing writer Franklin L. Johnson is a writer, poet and avid tennis player based in New York. He has covered professional tennis for three decades. His recent columns include Open Observations: Only The Strong Survive, Champs Can Sow Seeds of American Tennis GrowthThe GOAT Game ChangerWhat Do Roger Federer and Andy Murray's Coaching Changes Mean? American Anthem Needs New Tune, Tomas Berdych Played Tame Final and A Case For Vera.


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