Wozniacki seals top spot despite defeat

Friday, 28 October 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

ISTANBUL (Reuters): Caroline Wozniacki will end the year ranked world number one although her hopes of applying icing to the cake by winning the WTA Championships suffered a blow when she lost to Russia’s Vera Zvonareva in her second round-robin match on Wednesday.

The 21-year-old Dane was locked in combat with Zvonareva when news filtered through that Russian Maria Sharapova had withdrawn from the tournament with an ankle injury following a 7-6 6-4 defeat by China’s Li Na.

World number two Sharapova began the day as the only player still able to topple Wozniacki from the summit but she was clearly not herself in an error-strewn defeat before announcing that her season was over. It meant Wozniacki’s 6-2 4-6 6-3 defeat was immaterial as far as the rankings were concerned although with one win and one loss in the Red Group she could still miss out on the semi-finals here even if she beats Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on Thursday -- a tough ask after two three-setters in two days.

Wozniacki, who has been number one since February and has six titles in 2011, was not going to let defeat spoil her day.

“You know, it’s amazing for me to finish the year as number one once more,” she told reporters after being congratulated by WTA Tour chief Stacey Allaster in a presentation.

 “I mean, only very few players have finished a year as number one and to do it two years in a row is very special. I’m only in the beginning of my career and to have achieved so much already, it’s a dream come true.

“Of course, the match today I would like to have won, but at the same time, I still have a chance tomorrow. Right now I’m just so happy that I’ve been playing most consistently and the best tennis the whole year.” Former world number one Sharapova, still bothered by the left ankle sprain she suffered in Tokyo recently, was quick to congratulate Wozniacki. “It’s an incredible achievement to stay in that position for so many weeks,” the Russian told reporters.

Sharapova’s place in the White Group will now be taken by French alternate Marion Bartoli.

In the other White Group match Victoria Azarenka made a winning start with a 6-2 6-2 defeat of U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur who had beaten Sharapova on Tuesday. Sharapova, playing at the championships for the first time since 2007, almost missed the event due to the ankle injury and her lack of recent match practice was evident again as she let tournament debutant Li off the hook. The Russian led 4-1 in the opening set, and after seeing her lead evaporate, she then moved 4-0 ahead in the tiebreak only to lose the next seven points with a run of unforced errors.Li, who beat Sharapova in the French Open semi-finals this year on her way to claiming a first grand slam singles title for an Asian-born player, moved into a 5-2 lead in the second set before an attack of the jitters almost proved costly.

Serving for the match at 5-4 Li slipped 15-40 behind as Sharapova blazed away but she held her nerve to claim victory at the first attempt when her opponent hammered a backhand return over the baseline.

It was a fourth consecutive victory for the 29-year-old Li against Sharapova and could not have come at a better time after a poor run of results.

“It’s the first match I’ve won since (before) the U.S. Open,” she said. “I was fighting a lot.

“Tennis is easy. You don’t need to think too much about it. It’s black and white.”

Li will face Azarenka in Thursday’s first match after which Wozniacki takes on Kvitova.

Azarenka, who did not play on Tuesday, looked far fresher than Stosur.

The Belarussian kept the 27-year-old Stosur on the back foot with searing groundstrokes, most of which were accompanied by her trademark whine.

Stosur’s heavy topspin and slice had little effect on the bright green and purple indoor court and she slipped to a fifth loss in five against world number four Azarenka.

She refused to blame the schedule for her limp display, having played the first match on Wednesday despite finishing off Sharapova at close to midnight the previous night.

“I can’t blame that,” said the Australian. “It was a quick turnaround but I felt like I was ready to go. It just wasn’t fast or crisp enough.”

All is not lost for Stosur, however, as she can still qualify for the semi-finals if she beats Li in her final round-robin match.