Being the official number one but not really being seen as number one must be tough. I was at a press conference last year when golfer Lee Westwood, then ranked number one in the world, was once again asked about being at the top without having ever won a major. He became visibly annoyed.
“I’ve become world No. 1. I guess it’s for everybody else to debate about. But either way, I don’t really give a monkey’s,” he said. “I’m not one of those people who confuse being world No. 1 and winning major championships. People come out of nowhere and win majors. Well, that’s not what being No. 1 in this sport is about. It’s about consistency and performing well at the highest level.”
I was reminded of Westwood this week as Caroline Wozniacki was dumped out of the Australian Open at the quarter-final stage. The Dane is the top ranked woman tennis player in the world. Or rather she was. After losing to defending champion Kim Clijsters in straight sets she’s no longer officially the best.
But some think the 21 year-old never was, despite being officially at the top for much of the past year or so. They argue that only by winning a Grand Slam event can a player really cross the threshold into being a star.
Wozniacki seems to be able to regularly beat the mid-level players, but can struggle when faced with the best in the business. Still, Clijsters defended her opponent.
“You know, she’s good enough. (It took) me a couple years; its taken other people a while as well,” she said after the match. “So I think it’s all a matter of experience and improving. Then she will definitely get there.”
Wozniacki has enjoyed a total of 67 weeks at the top and said that “enjoyed” was the operative word. “We are just in January. In the end of the year, you see who has played the best, most consistently all year-round,” Wozniacki said. “You know, I will get it back eventually, so I’m not worried.”
There has also been plenty of advice from former champions such as Martini Hingis, who wants the Dane to be more aggressive.
“Today you just can’t let yourself get pushed back,” Hingis said. “That’s what she has to do. She has to try to move in, step forward, otherwise there’s always going to be somebody coming on top of her at a Grand Slam.”
“She’s a great player. I wish I would see her come in a little bit more…But you just can’t let yourself push back today, not against [Maria] Sharapova, [Kim] Clijsters, Serena [Williams], not somebody like that.”
Wozniacki now has time to prepare for the next Grand Slam in France at the end of May. The fact is that when all’s said and done, being number one may be great, but it’s winning the big prizes that give players a place in history.