Good Looks Plus Success: Caroline Wozniacki on Her Way
"I definitely am sure,'' Wozniacki said, "I'll get a lot of male fans now.''
She laughed. And she's right.
Wozniacki had just beaten Sharapova 6-3, 6-4 at Ashe Stadium, and now has the clearest possible path to the final. This also was a defining moment for Wozniacki, who just took the first step to becoming a star that non-tennis fans will know.
As of now, they had no idea that she is the No. 1 seed here, that she is ranked No. 2 in the world.
And that if she wins three more matches here, she'll pass Serena Williams to No. 1 in the world ranking on Monday.
Wozniacki is probably the most overlooked No. 1 seed in U.S. Open history. I'm not saying that no one is giving her a chance to win. Instead, hardly anyone has even noticed she was here at all.
That said, it's not easy to know what the story is here. Did Wozniacki just win or did Sharapova just lose?
I do know that Sharapova's post-match press conference was packed. Wozniacki's was about a third full.
Women's tennis is in serious need of someone with the "It" factor, and it was especially important here, as Serena Williams is out with some sort of mysterious foot injury.
A Sharapova win would have been huge for the game, and she also, then, would have had a clear path to the final. She is trying to make a comeback from shoulder surgery and a loss of nerve on her serve.
And she is so close now. In fact, I picked her to win the Open. She lost a close match at the French Open to Justine Henin, and that's when it seemed she was ready to be good again.
Then, she was the only player to give Williams a fight at Wimbledon. She nearly beat Kim Clijsters in Cincinnati, but then lost. And now, on Monday, she had another tight match with another top player.
And lost. That has become the common thread.
"I think it (her game) just needs to be more stable and not so up and down, especially against an opponent like her,'' Sharapova said. "You know, I need to string a few more things together than I did. It's all really capitalizing on what you have.
"You work hard for something and then you let it slip away. I've just got to capitalize on that. Obviously, a bit unfortunate in Grand Slams. I had my fair share of chances and didn't take them throughout this whole year in the big events. That's just the way it's gone.''
Sharapova's serve is not fully back; she double-faulted three times in one game Monday. But it's getting close. The bigger issue, though, is her nerve. She still is the best fighter on tour, but on the big points, she still tenses up.
Anyway, Wozniacki was already better than Sharapova, and has been for more than a year. But she needed to beat her here anyway for validation.
It is the mix of "It" factor and tennis, the blurred line that makes things confusing here.
Wozniacki reached the final of the U.S. Open last year, and tennis fans know her well. But the game has to have someone to draw in new fans from outside the niche.
And beating a big-time star in a big-time match was absolutely a must for her. The next must will be winning a major. Then, it will take one more, over Williams.
"My life is changing, the way I believe in myself," Wozniacki said. "I know when I go on court, I have the possibility to win against every player out there.
"And for me, the tennis is the most important at the moment. Everything off the court, it's just a plus.''
She mentioned that some people recognize her on the streets, and that when she goes shopping, people are suddenly very helpful.
Sharapova has a $70 million contract with Nike.
It would be nice to accept what Wozniacki said; that the tennis is all that matters, that women's tennis sells itself as a sport, and other side stuff is just on the side.
Unfortunately, it is not. It works together in a very uncomfortable way. Plenty of men are watching women's tennis partly, at least, because of the players' appearance, because sex sells.
Everyone knows that. There seems to be some mathematical formula that multiples looks times majors won to determine an "It" factor.
Well, Wozniacki's game is improving fast. The knock on her last year was that she was hitting too soft, playing defensively in a sort of boring style. Now, she's stronger, more confident, and blasting when necessary.
She's 20 years old, and she has been dominant all week. She might be less than a week away from being the U.S. Open champ and the No. 1 player in the world. The best thing for her would be to beat Venus Williams in the final.
Wozniacki has the game for tennis fans and the looks for marketers.
It could be the start of something big.