Although Caroline Wozniacki might admit that clay is not her strongest surface she still has a decent enough win/loss ratio on the dirt, and she was able to handle the zippy balls at altitude in Madrid a lot more comfortably than a hot and bothered Daria Gavrilova.
The Aussie kept pace with Wozniacki, but as her serve stats started to diminish, so did her control over her emotions as she struggled to stay with the Dane in the second set.
Having had to withdraw from Istanbul, where she was a former champion, Wozniacki was looking for a comfortable start in more ways than one.
She said, after the match: I strained my [abdominal] muscle out there and it was starting to get worse and I would have to hit a lot of high balls and stretched abs didn’t really help me. I decided it was better not to completely tear it and keep it as a strain, and with a few days rest I was hoping it was going to get better, and treatment. It felt good today so I was very happy with that.”
“I think I performed pretty well today. I think it’s the best clay match that I’ve had so far this year, so I’m really happy with that. Daria was playing really well too I thought. She likes the clay and was mixing up the pace, but I was happy to win the big points.”
For a player who has built her reputation on her movement and agility as well as the variety she can bring to bear on a court, it is always a surprise that she sometimes views clay as her worst surface. But she shared her insight into why it has always been the more challenging of the surfaces for her.
She said: “I don’t think that great shots always get rewarded and I feel they do on hard court or grass. I feel like I played good points, I know what to expect, I feel ahead, I feel comfortable and sometimes on clay you can be hitting five, six, seven good shots in a row and it’s not doing as much.
“I’ve had quite a few bad injuries on the clay, so you know it’s not something where I feel like I’m a perfect mover on. I think that definitely that takes a little bit away from my game but at the same time I’m just trying to get better. I tape my ankles just to make sure. I try not to think about it too much but there’s sometimes when I feel like Bambi a little bit.”
Wozniacki is certainly not the first to fid the surface unsettling, but it is not necessarily the lack of control in the movement that is now the issue, but rather the time to consider a myriad of options, as she further explained.
“I think it’s the sliding and the not sliding. On hard court I know exactly how far the ball is, I don’t even have to think. It’s automatic I need to make this many steps and this is how I get to the ball. I mean clay sometimes you have option – am I going to slide, am I going to run straight through it am I going to run and then slide?
“So sometimes it’s like I have too many options, so I think that’s sometimes what it is but with matches I think like I’m getting more and more accustomed to that and it’s getting better. I thought I moved pretty well today and got quite a few nice rallies out there.”
Getting the balance right
With incumbent World No. 1 Simona Halep looking to three-peat here, the pressure is on the two best players in the world to race for the top spot. With Halep having won her first match, Wozniacki now has to reach the final to regain the World No. 1 spot and winning the title would guarantee her the World No. 1 at the end of the week. So how has the balance been for her since winning her maiden Slam and regaining the spot at the start of the year?
“I think the fact that obviously I’ve been at the top of the game for a long time, so the demand has always been somewhat pretty high. I feel like I’ve been used to it. It’s not like I’ve never won a tournament before and all of a sudden you win a Grand Slam and it’s like ‘what is happening?’
“I feel like I’m pretty good at finding the balance and knowing what I want to do and what I don’t want to do and when to stay ‘stop’. For me the tennis part is most important and getting my training in, and everything else come second. Everyone has great respect for that and I think that’s also why I’ve managed to play well for a long period of time.”
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