Wozniacki returns to Hong Kong a superstar

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 January, 2010, 12:00am

When Caroline Wozniacki first came to Hong Kong in 2007 she brought her parents along to handle her affairs and arrived with the sort of wide-eyed expectations that usually accompany a player ranked 231st in the world.

At 16 years old, then, the Dane had the world before her, a talent untested on the senior tour but a young lady who was ready to throw herself into the fray.

Three years can seem to pass by in a flash and while Wozniacki returns to town this week sounding like she remains pretty much that very same person, results over the past 12 months show she is a much, much different player - and the life that swirls around her has changed along the way.

Those parents - Piotr and Anna - will no doubt be here watching this week at Victoria Park as Wozniacki leads Team Europe at the Hong Kong Tennis Classic, but the now 19-year-old arrives back in town with a collection of major commercial endorsements, a PR team driving her publicity - and the little matter of a world number four ranking beside her name.

The past year has seen Wozniacki land three singles titles - in Florida, Eastbourne and New Haven - and barge her way into her first grand slam final, at the US Open in September where she eventually lost to former world number one Kim Clijsters.

It has been a wild ride so far and Wozniacki is the first to admit that her head is still spinning.

'My rise really went faster than I expected and I didn't expect to reach a grand slam final in 2009,' she said.

'I'm the youngest player in the top 20, everything has gone well for me and I am happy with my results.'

That Wozniacki was destined for the top first became apparent when she won the 2006 junior title at Wimbledon. She arrived in Hong Kong as the next year broke, given the role of 'Tennis Ambassador' and not expected to feature that much until injuries to more illustrious players threw into the main draw.

By tournament's end she had picked up the Silver Group singles title - fought out between the best runners-up - and the overall doubles title with the woman she would later face across the net when she walked out for that US Open final at Flushing Meadows - Kim Clijsters. Funny how the world turns.

That her life has changed immeasurably in the years since is again reflected by a scan of Wozniacki's blog, which reveals that after that run in New York last year came to and end, she went out hunting around for an apartment to buy. Not bad when you are 19.

In reality, though, Wozniacki is keeping her feet planted firmly on the ground, despite being lauded as the tennis world's next big thing. Her plan for 2010 is totally achievable - make it into the world's top three. 'I think it is important to take small steps,' she said. 'And it is important to have a goal that is realistic in the short term, and it is realistic right now, as a goal.

'I don't know,' she added. 'It's really tough as everyone's playing really well. It's really tough to reach a final and win a grand slam and you need to play some really great matches.'

The format of this year's Hong Kong event - rounding out the draw will be the Zheng Jie-led Team Asia-Pacific - has the young Dane intrigued. Each team have two women playing and one veteran man, among them some greats of the game.

Team Americas has Michael Chang, for Team Russia it's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, for Team Asia Pacific it is Pardorn Srichaphan.

And for Wozniacki's Team Europe, it is the legendary Swede, Stefan Edberg.

'It's a great format,' she said. 'I haven't played with [Edberg] before but with the singles and the mixed doubles, I'm sure it's going to be great, and it's going to be fun.'

Wozniacki readily admits that first up she has to improve her record against the world's best women - she is yet to establish a winning record against any of the other players ranking in the world's top 10.

And she will no doubt have plenty of opportunities to do that in Hong Kong this week as the Tennis Classic features former world number one Maria Sharapova leading Team Russia and former world number one Venus Williams leading Team Americas. 'When you play a top player your record is probably not the best and I am a young player,' said Wozniacki.

'I have a lot of experience and I beat a lot of good players last year so I'm happy with my results and I'm sure that if I keep working hard and keep fighting I will have more top-10 wins this year.'

Dane good

Three years ago Danish wonderkid Caroline Wozniacki was 231st in the world, now she is ranked number: 4