DOHA (Reuters) - Caroline Wozniacki can crown a breakthrough season under clear desert skies at the WTA Championships in Doha this week, although the absence of Serena Williams still clouds the Dane’s early days as world number one.
The 20-year-old became the first Danish player to take the top ranking earlier this month and the fresh-faced blonde is enjoying a purple patch of form that could net her a seventh title of the season and $1.5 million (956.1 thousand pounds) in prizemoney.
Wozniacki, the third player in two years to reach the pinnacle of women’s tennis without winning a grand slam, endured a torrid time in Doha last year, battling leg and stomach cramps that left her a twitching, writhing wreck on the hardcourt.
The Dane has worked hard on her fitness over the past year, however, and is fighting fit despite strength-sapping schedule stops in China and Japan recently. “After I got back from Asia, I took five days off from tennis. I think I really needed a break so I just did some fitness work, mostly boxing with my trainer,” she said on her website, adding that she was now fully focussed on Doha.
“Last year I had a great showing there, but had to retire in the semi-final due to a lingering injury. I’m 100 percent healthy now, so I’m looking forward to improving my result from last year.”
The season-ending Tour finale, reserved for the world’s top eight players, is making its last appearance in the gas-rich Gulf Emirate of Qatar before moving on to Istanbul for the next three years.
While both Serena (ranked 2nd) and Venus Williams (4th) miss out due to injury, grand slam winners Kim Clijsters and Francesca Schiavone will battle for the title along with Vera Zvonareva, Jelena Jankovic, Sam Stosur, Elena Dementieva and Victoria Azarenka.
BEAT THE BEST
A rich vein of form and unshakable consistency have vaulted Wozniacki to the top, but few would argue she must put Serena Williams to the sword on court before she can truly be considered the world’s best.
Williams, the former world number one and last year’s champion in Doha, has not played since winning her 13th grand slam at Wimbledon and will not play again this year after re-injuring her right foot from over-training. Big sister Venus is out due to a nagging knee injury.
Despite their absence, the WTA insists its efforts to keep top players healthy through a demanding season are paying off.
“Two years ago, the calendar for women’s tennis was substantially changed in response to concerns from players that the season was too long and gruelling,” the WTA said in their Roadmap Report.
A shortened, streamlined season, more breaks for top players and fewer top player tournament commitments had lessened the strain on athletes and boosted participation in key events, the WTA added.
The Tour’s tough schedule may yet claim another victim before the WTA Championships begin Tuesday with Serbia’s former world number one Jankovic struggling to overcome a virus. Belarussian Azarenka arrives in Doha Sunday evening having captured her second title of the year at the Kremlin Cup earlier in the day.