Par for the course: Wozniacki content to do her own thing
Fighter ... Caroline Wozniacki. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
Caroline Wozniacki walked onto Hisense Arena on Thursday just as her boyfriend, Rory McIlroy, was playing the second hole of his opening round at the HSBC Championships in Abu Dhabi. Alongside the Northern Irishman was Tiger Woods. They held the attention of the golf world.
To say Wozniacki's second-round appearance cast a similar spell over tennis would be something of an exaggeration. A smattering of applause greeted her; barely a third of the 10,500 seats were taken.
Through no fault of her own, the Dane occupies a strange place in the game. Last year, she came here as the world No.1 and was questioned - as she had been for more than a year - about her worth, having not won a grand slam to underpin the mantle. Now seeded 10, she is asked about the pressure to return to No.1.
''It's part of the game, it's part of the whole thing,'' she said of any possible frustration, a sense that she is cooked either way. ''It's fine, I just do my thing and that's basically it.'' Clearly, she has adopted a ''don't go there'' mentality.
At least she's fielding questions about herself - some of the time. Her media conference on Wednesday included the mandatory grilling about McIlroy, and in this she shouldn't feel miffed - at a pre-tournament gathering in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, 14 of the 20 questions asked of Woods were about the man golf's computer rates as the top banana Tiger was for so long.
Perhaps this makes Woods feel his years, just as playing a grand slam debutant who is the same age she was - 16 - at the 2007 French Open made Wozniacki check the clock, and not for the first time lately. In a packed women's tour physio room recently, she noticed she was the oldest player there.
She knows feeling ancient alongside Donna Vekic is ridiculous. ''I mean, she's six years younger than me! That's crazy.''
Only as silly as the focus that dogged her time at the top. Martina Navratilova said last year that it was as if Wozniacki was being cajoled to apologise for being ranked the best, when no one believed she was.
Now back in rankings territory thought more fitting, Wozniacki's mantra has become that of the athlete who knows others have more tricks, and that every other facet of her game must be full bore in the hope of compensating. ''I want to go out there, I want to play, I want to perform, and most importantly I want to fight,'' she said after beating Sabine Lisicki in the opening round.
Vekic will doubtless offer greater resistance in the future, but for now she is merely a promising talent, a tall, clean hitter in whom Wozniacki saw great potential. A Croatian with a strong English accent courtesy of five years in London, Vekic has looked up to the Dane, and admitted to nerves on Wednesday.
''I always go into a match thinking I'll win,'' she said of her mindset. ''You watch her on TV, and now all of a sudden you play against her, it's just nice. She was the top player. I want to be No. 1, I want to be everything she's done.'' She left court feeling like she belonged.
Wozniacki's 2012 was a year of steady decline. Losing to Kim Clijsters in the quarter-finals here dropped her back to four in the world, by Miami in March it was six, she arrived at Roland Garros ranked nine, and fell out of the top 10 on the back of first-round exits at Wimbledon and the US Open. Her new year form in Brisbane and Sydney had been scratchy.
McIlroy made a sluggish start in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, disappointing the many eyeballs that followed his every step and swing. Wozniacki, by contrast, played to a small crowd; even her media conference was held before a sea of empty seats. None of which would have bothered her a jot. Winning was compensation enough.