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02 December 2023

New chapter in Wozniacki fairytale

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki returns a shot to Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova during their Fed Cup tennis match in Lisbon on February 5. (REUTERS)

Caroline Wozniacki, the tenacious and charismatic Danish teenager who has made a stunning leap to world number three, will achieve another career landmark at the Dubai Open next week.

The $2 million Premier category tournament starting on Sunday is the largest so far at which Wozniacki has been top seed, something which may help her gain more ranking points to edge her nearer to the world number one position she says she can achieve.

The 19-year-old from the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen thus continues to write her own fairytale, though on this occasion the chapter is being written with the help of two bigger names.

Serena Williams and Dinara Safina, who fought for the year-end world number one spot until the very last tournament of 2009, are still suffering from chronic ailments, and have withdrawn.

Williams has a persistently troublesome knee and Safina back problems lasting for several months, which makes Wozniacki's huge total of 90 matches last year look all the more remarkable.

While many leading women have been increasingly careful about the number of matches they play, or have cut down their schedule to reduce the risk of injury, Wozniacki has played as much as she can.

"I had a lot of matches in each tournament. I think I can be happy about that," Wozniacki said, seemingly unaffected by the career-damaging problems of Williams and Maria Sharapova, or by the 18-month decline of Ana Ivanovic.

By complete contrast, Justine Henin apparently planned to compete in Dubai but changed her mind after reaching the Australian Open final, ending the tournament exhausted.

Henin, who has been through the agony of a failing body too often before, will instead take a break and not play again till Indian Wells next month.

But Wozniacki is more care-free.

"I like playing matches. It feels like I'm on a go. I like being in a competition rather than only practising," she said recently, adding: "I think if I wouldn't have made so many matches, my ranking wouldn't be as high as it is today."

Wozniacki though may be more sanguine about her record as top seed. Only once in five attempts has she justified this status, whilst winning the Japan Open in 2008.

She has been runner-up twice, losing to Victoria Azarenka in Memphis and to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in Bastad, a semi-finalist once, losing to Sam Stosur in Osaka, and a first round loser once, retiring against Anne Kremer in Luxembourg.

Wozniacki needs to avoid further disappointments, for she did not make the best start to the year, losing in the Australian Open fourth round to Li Na, this month the first Chinese player to reach the world's top ten.

Li went on to beat Venus Williams, and take Serena to two tie-break sets, indicating that her success against Wozniacki was no fluke.

This has helped her become a probable top eight seed next week, thereby missing more of the better players early on, and helping her to become a slightly greater threat.

The withdrawals have given Venus, the likely third seed, a better chance of becoming only the second woman to make a successful defence of the Dubai Open title she won amidst last year's controversy.

This caused the five times Wimbledon champion to refer to her father Richard's suffering while growing up in America's deep south.

"My dad grew up in a place where if you spoke too much, it was your life. I had a small opportunity here to say something where everyone would listen," Venus said as comment to the much-publicised Shahar Peer affair.

The Israeli had initially been denied a visa by a junior immigration official in the United Arab Emirates. Although it was eventually revoked, the tournament was given a 300,000 dollars fine - the largest penalty ever imposed by the WTA Tour.

Consequently this year's Dubai Open has been required to satisfy special conditions, which include proof of an entry permit for Peer at least eight weeks in advance - although it was simultaneously described as "a long-standing first rate partner of tennis."

Its opulence and hospitality has again attracted an outstanding field, which should include French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Olympic champion Elena Dementieva, and former world number one Jelena Jankovic.


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