What Wozniacki wants: A top-three spot in 2010

By Dean Irvine, CNN
January 8, 2010 — Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)

Hong Kong, China (CNN) — In Doha last October Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki provided one of the most harrowing moments ever seen on a tennis court. Battling through cramps in the third set of a match against Vera Zvonareva, she fell to the court, her tear-streaked face a portrait of agony, her body contorted in pain.

Almost three months later and the player ranked number four in the world is in Hong Kong, and a world away from the struggle of that end-of-season tournament and a long, but hugely successful year.

Last year proved to be an unexpected break-though period for the 19-year-old. Starting the year ranked 12th, she went on to appear in seven finals and reached her first Grand Slam Final at the U.S. Open where she came off second best to Kim Clijsters.

Looking forward to improving her ranking by one place in 2010, the 19-year-old is feeling physically fit and relishing challenging established top players for honors this year.

Early tests against Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova at the Hong Kong round-robin team event are pressure-free ways to get back into the groove that saw her through to that final in Flushing Meadows.

[In Hong Kong] you’re assured of playing against a couple of the top players, and there’s no pressure for rankings points. You always know the first few matches of the year are really tough because you need to get in the rhythm again, and it’s nice that you can just play — of course you want to win — but you know you have a match the next day even if you don’t,” she told CNN.

Born to Polish parents, both of whom were professional sportspeople, she grew up with a good grounding in what it takes to achieve sporting success.

She announced herself to the tennis world when she won the Junior Wimbledon title in 2006. Four years on and she’s still coached by her father, who has instilled in her a focus and healthy work ethic. It’s unlikely that sharing the same PR agency as The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger will go to her head.

“I hope the hard practice and work I’ve put in will pay off. There has been more media attention [since the U.S. Open] but I don’t feel the pressure. I’m used to attention from a young age with the Danish media. I take it as it comes; it’s just a part of the game,” she said.

Injuries and fatigue are also a part of the game, as witnessed so dramatically in Doha last year, where nearly all the players at the tournament suffered from illness or were carrying injuries.

The WTA restructured the circuit in 2009, shortening the season and reducing the number of top events players must compete in. The aim was to reduce top players’ withdrawals as well as protect players’ health. According to the WTA withdrawals were down by one third last year compared to 2008.
Yet despite the new rules and her own injury woes, Wozniacki is looking to play more rather than less.

“They tell you now you have to have a break; you choose yourself what you want to play,” she told CNN.

Serena and Venus, who have been on the Tour for a long time, maybe they can cut down as they’ve been through it all. But me and Victoria Azarenka (also competing in Hong Kong), we’re young and need the experience and maybe we need more matches to get into the rhythm. Maybe in five years or so maybe we can cut down.”

Also at the event are former pros Stefan Edberg, Michael Chang and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who really have seen it all before.

“They’re really nice guys and it’s so good to learn from them. They’ve been through everything and achieved things that I want to achieve, so it’s great [to be able to play with them].

“I was very little but I remember Michael Chang getting the cramps. People were saying after Doha, ‘Well Michael Chang did the same thing’.”

However, sharing a world ranking of number one and Grand Slam title would be something she’d rather have in common with Chang.

“I need to play well to beat anyone. I like the challenges. The future will show [if I win a Grand Slam]. That’s my dream so hopefully that’s possible.”