Interview with Piotr Wozniacki: “I’ve forgotten to enjoy myself and I regret that.”

Interview with Piotr Wozniacki in the Danish Jyllands-Posten online by Thomas Møller Kristensen

Manners: Piotr Wozniacki is the man behind Denmark’s first world tennis star. In this retrospective he’s annoyed about always having hunted progress, but most of all he’s grateful that his daughter has become a good person despite the pressure and criticism.

WIMBLEDON – The smile. There really are so many kinds. Some create happiness, others anger, some reach as high as the eyes, others need time in front of the mirror to master. Then there’s the special kind that’s reserved for that special person.

Like the smile a father has thinking about his daughter.

That was the sort of smile Piotr Wozniacki was wearing a little over a week before Wimbledon.

He’d just been with the stringer, one of Caroline Wozniacki’s racquets needed tightening and she quickly ripped the packaging off when he returned.

After smacking it a couple of times with the palm of her hand she looked questioningly at her father: it didn’t feel right, it felt strange, and it ended with a bit of an argument about how tight the stringing should be.

No one would give in, and numbers flew around the room, there was head shaking and arguing back and forth before Caroline Wozniacki exclaimed, “yeah yeah”, turned around and left.

One had the feeling the discussion was far from over, but she’d been training hard, it was time to eat, and the discussion would have to be continued later.

And that’s why Piotr Wozniacki sat there with that smile.

Daddy’s girl, an independent person, own opinions and the guts to deliver them.

“Girl” is perhaps the wrong word.

Caroline Wozniacki is approaching 25 and her 10th anniversary as a professional, and that’s why Piotr Wozniacki has agreed to an interview. He admits that the anniversary is a good reason for a retrospective, but he punctures the premise immediately.

For him it hasn’t been 10 years, it’s been a lifetime project.

Caroline Wozniacki was interviewed for the first time as an eight-year-old, when she spoke about her dream of being the world’s best and winning a Slam. She travelled to Japan, Australia, indeed the whole world as a new teenager. In the family’s and Caroline Wozniacki’s own mind she’d become a professional long before 2005.

“Maybe people mostly notice the strawberries on top of the cake, but we’ve spent many years making the cake itself,” is how Piotr Wozniacki put it.

A half hour soliloquy

He didn’t get up and leave the table after making the statement; he wanted to talk. He had to get things out, emphasise points. Actually, he had so much on his mind that the interview became almost one-way communication.

Asking the question about what he was most proud of about Caroline, not as a player but as a person, pushed a button somewhere.

32 minutes and 18 seconds later he put so many headlines into the Dictaphone that there hadn’t been room for a single follow-up question. The words poured out of him, one word lead to another, and all the titles and the money and the experiences weren’t what were mentioned the most.

His soliloquy was more about the personal, of his concerns about having followed and pushed his daughter so focussed in one direction.

It was about regrets about not having allowed himself to enjoy all the big moments and of the joy of seeing her grow into a woman of substance and energy and not the least humanity in a world lacking the same.

That doesn’t mean that Piotr Wozniacki is a softy.

He’s been extremely focussed on pushing obstacles out of the way and helping his daughter, but there have been many practical situations that required alternative solutions.

A very young interpreter

He came to Denmark from Poland, from the Eastern Bloc, where he didn’t learn English, only Polish and Russian. Not very useful when they started travelling outside the country, so it was 11-12-year-old Caroline who used her school English to book hotels, order food in restaurants and contact tournament leaders.

“Just think about it. Such a little girl together with adults who are talking business and management. She had to translate everything for me because I was hopeless at communicating. There were sometimes serious negotiations or other things, so it was important that she did it well, because I needed to go on and do the right things with a contract or some such,” declares Piotr Wozniacki.

“She enjoyed it and felt very grown up, but I was nervous that I was stealing her childhood, that she would grow up too quickly. I spoke with Anna (Caroline’s mother) and friends about it. I knew nothing about pedagogy and child psychology. I’d only been to a sports university so I had to research all the information because I didn’t want to hurt her. I worried a lot about that, and I’m proud about how well it went and relieved that she wasn’t hurt.”

Piotr Wozniacki has seldom shown this sensitive side.

He was quickly branded as something of an eccentric from the East, obviously obsessed with living his sports ambitions through his daughter because it was impossible that she could have those sorts of thoughts at such a young age.

The sport of tennis has seen too many of those kinds of family tragedies, and Piotr Wozniacki still feels personally insulted by the stories and the accusations. The repeated attacks brought the family and their near friends closer together and they used the “us against the world” feeling as fuel and gathered the necessary economic backing to realise the visions.

The suspicions about his motives have disappeared, but Piotr Wozniacki is still tired of seeing his daughter’s achievements demeaned. Technically, Caroline Wozniacki still isn’t over the finish line because she still needs to win that Slam title and that’s constantly mentioned at least four times a year in connexion with the Australian, French, US Opens and Wimbledon.

A little perspective

Piotr Wozniacki is ready for constructive criticism, but some retired Danish tennis players have raised his hackles.

“Yeah, they’ve been on the tour once, but how much have they won? How high have they got in the rankings? They’re two different worlds, and they still come with their condescending talk. She was a young girl when she heard it for the first time. She’s put in a huge effort, travelled the world and she’s proud of her results, and then she reads, yeah, yeah, she only won because Serena wasn’t there, or it was a small $100,000 tournament, but is that really a small amount of money?”, asks Piotr Wozniacki rhetorically.

“Sure we can talk about whether she played well and needs to work on things, but I don’t understand the other stuff. Tennis is the only sport where girls earn the same as boys, so naturally a million girls in the world want to be good at tennis. And despite that, Caroline from Denmark is one of the world’s best. It’s evil coming with the kind of crap she’s had to put up with, so I’m proud of the way she’s tackled adversity without becoming bitter. I hope one day there’s a Dane who can achieve the same things as Caroline, so people can understand how much she’s accomplished.”

At one time it appeared he’d be a father to another talent with the potential to go further.

Patrik Wozniacki, four years older than Caroline, had the same relationship with a football as she had to a tennis ball, but he never got higher than the secondary divisions.

Piotr Wozniacki has earlier regretted that he’d had to ‘choose’ between the two and back Caroline, and he’s grateful to see that his children have a fine relationship right up to today.

Patrik could have been disappointed over being number two and not breaking through, he could have not felt sorry about his little sister’s tribulations, but they worry about each other and take care of each other.

On the other hand, Piotr Wozniacki regrets that he hasn’t had the same energy.

He’s been so absorbed by the striving for achievements that he hasn’t allowed himself to stop and enjoy the feeling of a great result.

“I’ve forgotten to enjoy myself, and I regret that. We’ve won titles, had weeks as number one, so men great things I haven’t spent time enough thinking about because I’ve always thought about the next practice or the next tournament,” admits Piotr Wozniacki.

“I’ve lost happiness in a way, and it’s wrong to sit here and know that we’ve never been satisfied with a final or a semi-final even if it’s a super result.”

To explain his feelings, Piotr Wozniacki paints the picture of a dream car a man has fantasized about for several years. He can finally afford it, he’s deeply in love, but after a few months he’s no longer spending time sneaking to the window just to look at the wonder.

Happiness over the result

That’s not the way it’s going to be in the future, Piotr Wozniacki has promised himself. In the future he’ll try and find satisfaction in the moment, but he can’t go back into the past and be happy in retrospect.

“That’s why I’m just happy to look at Caroline every day and see the real thing. So I just have to accept the things I might have been able to do better or differently. I’m proud that she thinks of others. She doesn’t just take money from her account and give it to charity, she runs marathons to raise money. She uses herself,” says Piotr Wozniacki.

“She’s done a lot of things that aren’t publicised, and that’s what is most important to me. She’s been involved in hundreds of good things without shouting, “look at me, look at the good things I’m doing” to the whole world. I’m proud of that. She’s incredibly sensible, she’s a good person, she has what money can’t buy.”

Piotr Wozniacki didn’t go on any further because a dog in his pocket suddenly barked, an incoming call.

The telephone brought him out of his trance, it was time go move on, a meeting needed arranging.

And there was that little discussion about stringing to finish.

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