The WTA has had its share of infamous parents, particularly fathers, over the years. First there was Jim Pierce, Mary Pierce’s father, who was physically and mentally abusive to Mary for the majority of her formative years. In November of 1992, the ‘Jim Pierce rule’ passed, which stated a member of a player’s entourage, whether it be an agent, parent or coach, could be banned for his or her conduct. He was banned from all remaining events of the 1993 season due to violent behavior towards Mary at that year’s French Open.
Next came Marinko Lucic, father of Mirjana. Lucic, who made the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1999 at just 17, said her father started physically beating her at the tender age of five and also beat her mother and siblings. Years of physical and verbal abuse followed Lucic’s young career, until countryman Goran Ivanisevic saved the family and helped them move to the United States. Stefano Capriati was also alleged to have crossed the line with his daughter Jennifer and used the teenaged Capriati as the cash cow for her family.
Damir Dokic is perhaps the most infamous father in tennis history due to a variety of off-court incidents; he accused the Australian Open organizers of fixing the draw against his daughter in 2001, complained about the price of food at the US Open and was kicked out of Wimbledon for being drunk and disorderly. In June 2009, Damir was arrested and eventually sentenced to 15 months in prison for threatening the Australian ambassador to Serbia; he and Jelena reconciled in 2011, ending their eight-year feud. Arsalan Rezai, whose daughter Aravane seemed poised to be a contender on the WTA after winning Madrid in 2010, was indefinitely banned from the WTA after a violent incident with Aravane and her boyfriend at the 2011 Australian Open. The incident has had a profound effect on the Frenchwoman, who has slipped to near No. 200 in the WTA rankings.
While Piotr Wozniacki has not approached these extremely abusive levels, he’s become a tennis villain in his own right. Much like Yuri Sharapov before him, Piotr has been the one constant in Caroline’s tennis career, perhaps to a fault. Over the past few years, Caroline has been criticized just as much for Piotr’s domineering presence in on-court coaching visits as she has for her defensive game style or “Slamless No. 1” status. Many have called for Caroline to fire her father as coach and employ someone who knows the game better to try and help her win her maiden Slam title.
When the Wozniackis hired Ricardo Sanchez in early 2012, it seemed as though she had turned a corner; however, this coaching relationship latest all of two months, and Sanchez later stated that it was impossible to coach Caroline under Piotr’s influence. Both father and daughter have insisted to the press that their system is the best system for Caroline.
On Thursday in Doha, Caroline argued with chair umpire Julie Kjendlie over a phantom ‘out’ call during her match with Mona Barthel. Piotr felt the need to join in from the stands, and the scene became a circus when a WTA official came to confront him.
As a spectator, Piotr has no right to argue his daughter’s case or strike up any sort of conversation with the chair umpire or other officials from the stands, and Kjendlie should never have engaged him. Players have no right to claim hindrance based on calls from the crowd, and as the linesman signaled the ball in with his hands, it should have been ruled a clean winner and Barthel’s point. Kjendlie was in the midst of explaining this to Caroline when Piotr got involved. Following his tirade, she proceeded to change her ruling and ordered the point to be replayed.
Was Kjendlie ‘bullied’ into doing so? Maybe. Nonetheless, she should’ve stood her ground here; the first rule of umpiring is stick to your guns, no matter what. But that doesn’t, even for a second, excuse Piotr’s behavior.
Maria Sharapova finally put Yuri in the backseat after winning the Australian Open in 2008. After firing her father as coach and hiring Tomasz Wiktorowski as coach in July 2011, Wozniacki’s friend and rival Agnieszka Radwanska finally reached the next level; she peaked at World No. 2, reached the Wimbledon final in 2012 and has cemented her status as a top-five player. Marion Bartoli, who recently settled her rift with the French Tennis Federation and was named to the Fed Cup team for the first time since 2004, stated that her father will no longer be coaching her, ending the other high-profile WTA father-daughter coaching relationship.
It can’t be denied that Wozniacki reached the pinnacle of women’s tennis under her father’s tutelage. However, his on-court episodes have become more and more frequent following Caroline’s slide down the rankings. If other players can ‘put on the big girl pants’ and take control of their own careers, why can’t Caroline?
Because she doesn’t want to. At the end of the day, Caroline is an adult; if she wanted to end the coaching relationship with her father, she would’ve done so already.
With a three-set loss to the resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova today in Melbourne, Caroline Wozniacki has come full circle in the worst possible way. This isn’t simply the kind of match the former No. 1 used to win. This was literally a match the she was winning as of a little more than a year ago. In fact, the Russian powerhouse has been an interesting foil to Wozniacki during her rise to, mainstay at, and now fall from, the top of the WTA Rankings.
Flash back to the 2009 US Open. Kuznetsova was the higher ranked player, the reigning French Open champion. Wozniacki was the underdog; an underpowered youngster who’d had some good results, but had yet to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal. Under the bright New York lights, Wozniacki pulled out the first of her infamous Houdini-esque escapes from the grips of her more aggressive rivals. Despite lacking any notable weapon, the Dane stayed with her more celebrated opponent and outlasted Kuznetsova in a final set tiebreaker.
Wozniacki parlayed the upset into a run to her first Slam final, not only leapfrogging her own progress, but also dusting her peers in the process. A year later, she was No. 1 in the world.
By 2011, the Dane was no longer the up and comer for whom everyone rooted. Resigned to her role as a “Slamless No. 1,” Wozniacki continued to plug away, but there were chinks in the proverbial armor, ones of which Kuznetsova hoped to take advantage. Two years since their last major meeting, the Russian had fallen out of the top 10, but looked fitter and looked primed for revenge. Playing expert aggression for a set and a half, Sveta dominated the top seed, and reinforced all the criticisms that had already grown from whispers to a roar.
Wozniacki was too defensive. She could not hit winners. How was she the best in the world?
Wozniacki’s A game might not have been enthralling, but it was still effective, especially against a tiring Kuznetsova, who faded short of the finish line and allowed the beleaguered best take control of the match.
Another year on, and Wozniacki must be wondering where all the good times have gone.
It’s hard to argue that the Dane’s game is any different than it was when she was dominating the rankings. She has not made the kinds of improvements one would expect of a 22-year-old, but one can hardly assert that she has regressed.
Instead, the big hitters who had been erratic during her time at the top retooled and refurbished their games, but doing so outfoxed more than just her crafty defense. They obliterated her unshakable assurance, her almost haughty self-belief.
There was once an understanding that if Wozniacki played her game, the big hitters would eventually implode. Even today when Kuznetsova failed to break the Dane at 4-4 in the third, the consensus was that the Russian had blown her chance, and Caroline would pounce on Sveta’s inevitable mistakes.
But unfortunately for Wozniacki, it’s not 2009 anymore. It’s not even 2011 anymore. Kuznetsova was far from perfect over another three-set battle, but she got it right just enough to send her wily opponent home before the second week for the fourth straight Slam.
How can the former rankings queen regain her lost crown? Her game looks as static as ever, and her insistence on retaining her father Piotr as her coach continues to raise eyebrows. But what always made the difference for Wozniacki wasn’t her explosive groundstrokes, but her unflappable confidence. If she can regain that, she will undoubtedly be a factor once again, but until then, Caroline Wozniacki continues to wade through the rubble of a fallen empire.