Change is a constant for Caroline Wozniacki. She was ‘Sunshine’ before she was a world champ; a Pole and a Dane before she got engaged to a Northern Irishman. After returning to her first coach, her father, she’s recently made another adjustment to her off-court team. Can those changes see Wozniacki acquire the title – that of Grand Slam champion – that she so craves?
Heading into the 2014 season, the 23-year-old is the world 10th-ranked player, a drop from the 67 weeks she spent at number one from late in 2010. To get things moving back in the right direction, Wozniacki hired Maria Sharapova’s ex-coach Thomas Hogstedt last October to try to help her make that breakthrough in a major tournament.
Although Wozniacki’s fighting spirit has rarely been questioned, her technique – specifically her forehand – and her court placement – playing too far back – have often been the constants when critiquing her defensive-oriented game. On top of that, the three most prolific Grand Slam champions still on tour (Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova) have a combined 15-3 record against the Dane.
Losing to your top rivals is one thing; failing to reach the matches to even play them is something else. In 2013, Wozniacki failed to advance past the fourth round in any of the slams, each time losing to players ranked well beneath her.
She can take solace the new year begins on Plexicushion. Most of the 21 titles she has won over her career have been on hard courts, and her best slam results, including a final at the US Open in 2009, came on the quicker surface.
There are few secrets about how to beat Wozniacki, but she must hope Hogstedt can help whisper a few in her ear about her top rivals, including how to handle Li Na in Australia. The Chinese took Wozniacki out of both the 2010 and 2011 Australian Opens. Wozniacki mentioned as much when she announced the partnership with Hogstedt last year.
“I am excited to start training with Thomas,” Wozniacki told Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet. “I’m ready to develop my game and to work harder than ever before. I know I can also be a player who can win a Grand Slam. Thomas is very professional and positive. He is tough and pushes you to the limit. He has done a good job with both Li Na and Sharapova.”
Can Hogstedt be the final ingredient Wozniacki needs to push her way back to the summit of the women’s game and – perhaps more importantly – win that major that has so far eluded her? A first-round meeting with Spain’s Lourdes Dominguez Lino will reveal much of what’s to follow at Melbourne Park in the next fortnight.