Barely a week after the US Open climaxed in a thrilling final between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, the WTA juggernaut moves onto the first phase of its Asian swing. This week, there are International-level tournaments taking place in Guangzhou, China and Seoul, South Korea. Both events offer an opportunity for lower-ranked players to accumulate some points and prize money, as well as for some more high-profile stars to regain some of their lost form.
One of those stars is Caroline Wozniacki, who enters Seoul as the top seed. Wozniacki was criticised throughout 2011 for playing too many “lesser” events such as this, accused of trying to rack up ranking points in smaller tournaments to make up for underwhelming performances in the grand slams. In 2012, however, Wozniacki has participated in only one International event, and that was in her home town of Copenhagen, the de facto “Wozniacki Open”. She has had a very difficult season, spinning from the top of the rankings to 11th, with many disappointing losses along the way.
Ironically, as the 2012 season enters the home straight, Wozniacki might be advised to play in as many tournaments as she can. For the first time since 2008, it is highly possible that the Dane will not make it to the end-of-year championships. This would be a further blow to her confidence, which has been plummeting throughout the year. She still has a chance to make it to the elite eight-player event in Istanbul, but she needs to start winning, starting in Seoul.
For a supposedly smaller event, the draw features a lot of very accomplished players, and the top eight seeds are all in the top 30. Wozniacki will begin her campaign against the young Dutch player, Arantxa Rus. She will be the heavy favourite in that match, and would also be tipped to ease through a second round clash against either a qualifier or Alexandra Cadentu of Romania. In the quarter-finals, the competition will become noticeably stiffer, with 28th-ranked Klara Zakopalova her likely opponent. The Czech is nearing the end of her career, but is still capable of causing huge problems for the top players, as seen in her three-set battle at the French Open against Maria Sharapova.
Should Wozniacki make it to the last four, and should results follow the seedings, she would encounter Russian veteran Nadia Petrova, another player who pushed Sharapova to the limit in the US Open. Wozniacki has won their last four meetings, but it has been a long time since their rankings were a mere seven spaces apart.
The lower half of the draw is also full of talented and formidable players, including rising American Varvara Lepchenko and second-seeded Maria Kirilenko. Somewhat ominously from Wozniacki’s point of view, her potential opponents in the final could be any one of three players who have handed her tough losses this year: Julia Georges, Kaia Kanepi and Tamira Paszek.
So, for Wozniacki, victory in the Korea Open is far from a foregone conclusion. But if she can summon her best tennis, the event could well serve as a late turning-point for the Dane as she bids to finish her season on a high. Winning the title in Seoul would not only do wonders for her confidence, rake in useful ranking points and improve her chances of making it to the marquee Istanbul championships; it would also guarantee her a back-up place in the Tournament of Champions in Sofia. There is a lot to play for.