Doha: Caroline Wozniacki will become one of the more unlikely year-end world number ones if she wins two matches at the WTA championships which start here on Tuesday.
Little considered only 18 months ago and from a nation of only five million people, Wozniacki has climbed steadily to a position from which she should earn the 2010 accolade during the women’s season-end tournament.
After the 20-year-old Dane first reached the top earlier this month she said “this is a really big step for me - it doesn’t feel like it’s real.” Her words tempted some critics to suggest that it isn’t.
They suggested that the “real” number one is Serena Williams who has been restricted by injury to only 13 tournaments, and that Kim Clijsters, a mum, has played only 14, while super-fit Wozniacki has had the advantage of battling through 23.
Some point out that Wozniacki has yet to capture a Grand Slam title. Instead she is the third woman in the last two years, after Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina, to reach number one without winning a major.
Others are unimpressed with Wozniacki’s style of play, which has been described as too defensive, though she believes that perception is misleading.
She is in the process of constructing an unflashy, multi-faceted game, emabling her to play in a disruptively complex fashion and to adapt to different opponents and conditions.
Even without the crash-bang-wallop impact of the Williams sisters or other leading players, Wozniacki’s style is arguably more sophisticated than she is given credit for.
It is certainly effective, having gained her six titles this year.
And if Wozniacki’s game does not inspire awe, her photogenic good looks and outgoing personality have attracted admiration and increased her marketability.
These qualities helped attract several sponsorships -- Adidas, Babolat, Sony Ericsson, Danske Invest, Europaeiske, and e-boks among them - while her playing ability have brought 12 titles altogether and about five million dollars in prize money.
Wozniacki also appears frequently in the shop-window. She has fully 59 wins and 15 losses in 2010, and by the end of the coming week will not be far short of the massive total of the 87 matches she reached last year.
The player perhaps most likely to prevent Wozniacki taking the year-end championships title is Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open last month for a second successive time since giving birth to daughter Jada.
Winning a Grand Slam as a mother is one thing, Clijsters feels, but competing and touring enough to achieve the consistency and ranking points necessary to qualify for the WTA Champipnships is quite another.
“This means a lot to me,” she said after qualifying. “This in itself is a goal for me, and a highlight.”
It was the first time she had done it since 2006. Those were no public relations cliches.
The other qualifiers are Vera Zvonareva, twice a Grand Slam finalist from Russia, Francesca Schiavone, the Fench Open champion from Italy, Jelena Jankovic, the former world number one from Serbia, Elena Dementieva, the former Olympic champion from Russia, Samantha Stosur, the French Open finalist from Australia, and Victoria Azarenka, the world number 10 from Belarus.
Serena Williams withdrew with a tendon which was re-torn because she over-trained, she claimed, describing it as “deeply frustrating”. Venus Williams pulled out with a bad knee a few days beforehand.
Others whose season ended prematurely include Maria Sharapova, Dinara Safina, Agnieszka Radwanska, Nadia Petrova and Svetlana Kuznetsova, which means that fitness and appearance issues continue to trouble the WTA Tour despite senseible incentives created by its Roadmap 2010.
And former world number one Justine Henin’s comeback has included only 11 tournaments so far, leaving her just behind the eight qualifiers.
Hence the only player able to deny Wozniacki the number one ranking is another lesser known name, Zvonareva, a nevertheless very talented Russian who reached both the Wimbledon and US Open finals.
Zvonareva must reach another final here, with three wins in the round robin stage, to retain hopes of snatching the top spot, but if Wozniacki wins twice she will finish the year at the pinnacle.
If Zvonareva loses one match, Wozniacki would need one win.