Caroline Wozniacki claimed a maiden Grand Slam victory when she beat top seed Simona Halep in the Australian Open final last month. A power vacuum currently exists in the women’s game amid the absence of Serena Williams, and Wozniacki looks perfectly placed to fill it. She should be full of confidence heading into the remaining three Grand Slams of the year – the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – and she will be the one to beat at Roland Garros in the next one. Here are five reasons why the Dane can win the French Open:
Wozniacki now joins a small group of elite players to have won a Grand Slam and that experience should stand her in good stead going forwards. Williams has been so dominant in recent years that few others have had a look in. Several high ranking seeds made it through to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, but only one – Angelique Kerber – had ever won a Grand Slam. You can now add Wozniacki to that list. The other two players in the world’s top three, Halep and Elina Svitolana, have never tasted Grand Slam success and that gives Wozniacki a crucial advantage for big tournaments in future.
Top of the pile
Wozniacki is now world number one, having leapfrogged Halep by beating her 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 in the Australian Open final. It was a great match between the top two players in the world, full of twists and turns, excitement, drama and intrigue, and everything a final should be. The women’s game has become a lot more exciting than the men’s in the last year or two, and Wozniacki is now the leading light. If she maintains her form, she will head into the French Open as top seed and thus secure a favourable draw, which could help her cruise through to the latter stages of the tournament, by which point anything can happen.
Relishing the underdog role
Despite being world number one, Wozniacki will be a huge underdog heading into Roland Garros, due to her struggles on clay. She excels on hard court thanks to her aggressive style, and clay has always been her weakest surface. The Dane has won 71.5% of matches in her career, and just 66.2% of clay court matches. That compares to a 72.6% win rate on hard court and 69.6% on grass. She admits she has struggled on clay and rival Jelena Ostapenko has dominated her on the surface recently.
The furthest she has ever gone in the French Open is the quarter-final stage, in 2010 and last year, when she lost in three sets to eventual winner Ostapenko. For this reason, you can get an enormous price on Wozniacki winning the French Open, with some bookmakers on Oddschecker.com offering $21 on her lifting the trophy. That leaves her behind Williams ($6), Halep ($7), 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza ($9), Elina Svitolana ($11), Maria Sharapova ($13), Kerber ($17) and Karolina Pliskova (also $17). But write Wozniacki off at your peril as she displayed great mental fortitude to win the Australian Open and it is time for her to defy the odds again.
Reaching her prime
Wozniacki has tried all sorts of things to break her clay court hoodoo, including a spell under the tutelage of three-time French Open winner Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. She is aware of what she has to do in order to spark an upturn in her results: hit more balls into the court, run more balls and change the pace. It is now time for her to deliver. Her strong counter-punching game is actually reasonably well suited to clay – as she has proved by winning four titles on it – but she just has not spent as much time on the surface as she has on hard court. However, at the age of 27, Wozniacki is now coming into her prime. She has enough experience on clay to know how to get the job done, but retains the athleticism to charge around the court. She will arguably never have a better opportunity to claim this elusive Grand Slam and it will be fascinating to watch her progress over this year’s clay court season.
Sticking it to McIlroy
Golfer Rory McIlroy famously called off his engagement to Wozniacki back in 2014 and she is now engaged to NBA star David Lee, while the Northern Irishman is due to marry Erica Stoll. But that has not stopped him talking about Wozniacki to the press, which has annoyed her no end. The best way for her to deflect attention away from her personal life is to thrive on court, so she will be extremely focused on the French Open. Meanwhile, McIlroy continues to struggle after going all of 2017 without winning a single title and plummeting down the world rankings, so succeeding while he fails would make life all the sweeter for his jilted ex.