The Unpopular Miss Popular
Tennis journalists went crazy after Caroline Wozniacki recorded the biggest win of her career in taking out former champion Maria Sharapova in the fourth round of the US Open. Despite making the finals in 2009 and being the top seed, many considered this the coming of Wozniacki to the top of women’s tennis. Headlines screamed of the passing of a crown from one blonde beauty to another, congratulating Wozniacki for outstanding play and drooling over her good looks. My twitter feed, however, remained silent. The blogs I frequent, whilst complimentary of Wozniacki, were largely sympathetic for Sharapova, the one they really wanted to see win. Wozniacki may have proven once more than she belongs at the top of women’s tennis, but her fans remain few and far between. It’s a strange situation considering how likeable the 20-year-old Dane actually is.
Wozniacki serves as somewhat of an antidote to the rest of the WTA. Much like Kim Clijsters, Wozniacki stays scandal-free and ever smiling, never finding herself the bearer or receiver of catty comments. Yet she has none of the popularity of Clijsters. Even Jelena Jankovic, often called a drama queen for her constant streams of excuses and a habit for saying whatever she wants seems to garner more support. It’s certainly odd considering tennis fans’ general love of all things nice. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are easily the two most popular tennis players and benefit greatly from their nice-guy personalities. Ana Ivanovic, Clijsters, and Elena Dementieva also receive a heap of fan support and are considered engaging and sweet. In the modern world of tennis, rivalries consist more of hugs and well wishes than anything malicious or controversial. That their sport is full of such gentlemen and ladies is a pride of fans. It makes no sense that Wozniacki hasn’t been welcomed with open arms, indeed, she may be the nicest of them all. Unlike Ivanovic, Wozniacki has never had problems finding friends on tour and instead counts many fellow players among her friends. Closest of all is Victoria Azarenka, their friendship evident on Twitter and WTA video-clips. On Twitter she follows the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova, John Isner, Andy Murray, Clijsters, and the list goes on. She regularly tweets them, commenting on shoes, matches, and asking for catch-ups. She’s like the popular girl at school, the nice one, not the mean one, who no matter how successful is impossible to dislike. She’s the girl who ran around with Clijster’s daughter at the 09 US Open trophy ceremony. She really is that nice, so why isn’t she more popular among fans?
The answer could lie in her looks, I’ve seen more than a fair share of nasty comments directed at Wozniacki’s short tennis dress or on-court make up on Twitter. Yet good-looks haven’t seemed to impede the popularity of other top players with Ivanovic and Sharapova always gathering plenty of support. Indeed, Wozniacki’s dress that she had no hand in designing is fairly modest compared to the mens magazine shots of Sharapova and Ivanovic. Her website consists of tennis photos, not of her modeling in short shorts or airbrushed to perfection. Her Twitter profile picture is of her with her curly hair loose and a giant smile, no Williams-like bikini shots there either. So far, Wozniacki seems content to concentrate on the game she loves. As a result she comes across humble and modest, endearing qualities any tennis fan usually adores.
The problem, it seems, isn’t with Wozniacki the girl. Instead, her unpopularity lies in her tennis. It seems fans are caught up in what is considered an ugly game. Wozniacki has found success in a game that relies on consistency and defense over all-out attack. She’s been criticised for throwing up ‘moon-balls’, ‘pushing’ and waiting for her opponent to miss. After her quarter-final win Wozniacki herself admitted that her approach to battling the difficult wind was to ‘get everything back’. The irony is that tennis fans have complained about a lack of variety in the women’s game for some time. The Bollettieri breed of tennis stars, girls with lots of power and limited finesse, has been much maligned. Wozniacki’s game is more Clijsters than Sharapova, and like it or not, it’s exactly what everyone has been asking for. Add to this her strong mentality – Wozniacki is famous for battling through painful cramps and defying pressure heaped on her by the media – and it’s easy to see that she’s exactly that the WTA needs.
Not that Wozniacki is content with her style of tennis. Unlike Murray, Wozniacki appears to have listened to the criticism surrounding her defensive style and has made in-roads to developing it in 2010. Improvements are evident and paying dividends, she’s serving bigger, being broken less, and now possesses the ability to put away weaker balls with authority. She’s done all that without losing any of the consistency that propelled her up the ranking in 2009. It seems Wozniacki has yet another merit; she’s coachable.
It’s highly likely that tennis fans will warm to Wozniacki, providing she sticks with her down-to-earth, humble approach to her career. After all, personality goes a long way, especially in tennis. She certainly can’t be an easy person to dislike with her never-ending smile and many qualities. Her style of tennis is a work in progress and her mental strength and competitiveness can only be admired. She’s no ball-basher but she’s no longer content to run down balls all day either. She doesn’t start cat-fights, she doesn’t grunt, and her opponents like her. Most of all, Wozniacki loves tennis and tennis seems to love her back. It won’t be long until fans begin to flock in drives to Wozniacki. I’ll be right there with them, encouraging my Twitter feed to do the same.