“Pressure is a privilege.” – Billie Jean King.
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Shakespeare. Henry The IV, Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1, 26-31.
“I’m not a girl. Not yet a woman.” – Britney Spears.
Something bugged me all last week as I watched the WTA Championships in Doha. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until the third set of the final between Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki, a final Clijsters won on her own terms after suffering a letdown in the second set. Although I give Wozniacki credit for making it a competitive match, the sight of Wozniacki, wearing an icebag on her head while her father Piotr Wozniacki lectured her in Polish on how to best handle “Mama Clijsters” made everything very clear to me.
Wozniacki has to stop her father from coaching her on court.
Although the rules allowed on-court coaching for all players during the season ending event in Doha, Wozniacki, being the No. 1 player in the WTA, made use of the tactic more frequently than anyone else. And that’s what rubbed me the wrong way. After all, if the supposed best women’s player on the tour uses on-court coaching more than her fellow players, especially those in the top 10, what does that say about the ranking system or the tour itself? Although I’m not against players using the rules to their advantage, Wozniacki, because of her new elevated status, has to start playing the game on her terms. Not only to solidify her position as the tour’s best player but also in the best interests of the WTA.
Wozniacki’s status as the sport’s next global superstar is assured. She’s attractive (yes, I know I’ll get flak for that but it helps), extremely personable, speaks three languages maybe more and she’s earned a devoted fan base throughout the world. But of all the top players on tour, 2010 repeatedly saw “Papa Woz” run out on court during a tricky part of a match and start off with a beseeching cry of “Karolina, Karolina, Karolina” before launching into a rapid fire one-way coaching session while his daughter often avoided eye-contact the whole time. At least during her match against Clijsters in Doha, Wozniacki briefly interrupted her father with her own two cents (or Zloty) before he continued on with his fatherly advice.
Did Piotr Wozniacki’s on-court advice help his daughter at all in her final against Clijsters? Possibly. But the fact that she lost anyway speaks more to the rising call for on-court coaching to be banned from WTA matches as many view the tactic as nothing more than a glorified pep talk. Sure a coach will sometimes give helpful advice like “hit to the backhand more”, but shouldn’t a player know this before walking on the court? The fact that on-court coaching isn’t allowed in Grand Slams and that Wozniacki’s Slam results, aside from the U.S. Open final in 2009, have been hit or miss in the last few years only provide fodder for those who say Wozniacki, despite her tremendous skills, relies too heavily on her father and isn’t capable of dealing with big moments on her own. I don’t believe that to be true at all but if Wozniacki is to face down the criticism that she’s not a legit No. 1 or even a legit contender for a Grand Slam next year, she has to start showing that she is an independent thinker no matter if she plays on Centre Court or the first round of a small event.
Maybe Wozniacki as she grows older will find that she doesn’t need her father’s input so much or perhaps the WTA will stop on-court coaching altogether and make the decision for her. But as Wozniacki now says she enjoys being the “player to beat”, she and her coaching staff know she’ll face more scrutiny and more pressure to live up to her billing as the “best female player on the planet”. I know that title is open to debate, but if Wozniacki wants to be a part of that debate on her terms, maybe she should download this now classic tune from “Mama Spears” back in her teen sensation heyday and listen to these lines.
“There is no need to protect me
Its time that I learn to face up to this on my own
I’ve seen so much more than u know now
So don’t tell me to shut my eyes”
Nothing like a cheesy pop song to put everything into perspective.