Caroline Wozniacki: “She was a girl who was trained to achieve one goal or another from the start”

From small, thin girl on the Køge Tennis Club courts to world’s best. A weekly schedule, extra training and a family that gambled everything. By Mikkel  Hemmer-Hansen, Jyllands-Posten https://jyllands-posten.dk/protected/premium/sport/ECE9261914/det-var-en-pige-der-blev-traenet-efter-et-eller-andet-maal-helt-fra-starten/

The glass trophy gets a big kiss.

She’s done it before.

Caroline Wozniacki reached 25 tournament wins on the WTA tour when she won the Hong Kong Open in October 2016.

Another achievement for the 26-year-old Dane, who has achieved much in her career: two US Open finals, over 150 million Danish Crowns in prize money, and been number one in the world. That was in 2011, when she won the Danish Sports Name of the Year award.

She’s a success story. But very few know how hard she worked as a child on the courts of the Køge Tennis Club, and how much Caroline and her family have done and sacrificed to go all the way.

Like all other tennis kids at the Køge Tennis Club, Wozniacki began by playing with a big foam-rubber ball because it was easier to hit and not as hard to get over the net.

“Ball play takes up most of the time at that age level. They play with foam-rubber balls and often on the half court. It’s about keeping focus on the play aspect so the children stay motivated. But she quickly went past that level and started playing on the full court,” relates lawyer Helene Treschow, who was children’s coach at the Køge Tennis Club while she studied law and coached Caroline Wozniacki for a short time.

Caroline Wozniacki started playing more and more with regular balls on the full court, both with big brother Patrik and her father Piotr, who began coming more and more often to the club along with her mother Anna. It was a family project.

Sometimes Caroline would hit against a wall that’s still standing today at the club, though it’s now overgrown with weeds. But she often trained with her father.

“When Piotr trained with her, it was more concrete: a basket of balls to the forehand, and a basket of balls to the backhand,” says Helene Treschow.

Caroline improved a lot and began to beat older players. She trained with several teams, both those with older players, and with the boys.

Practising with the club champion

At one point, Piotr turned to the clubs best male player, club champion Peter Buser.

“Piotr himself wasn’t very good at tennis, so he got hold of people who could play with her. Piotr asked me if I would hit with her. I was a kid of twenty, and I could hit the ball a bit harder. She was bloody good already as an 8-year-old. She hit the ball well, she hit it cleanly and hard,” relates Peter Buser.

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

He describers the whole family as friendly, nice and very ambitious.

“There was a plan. There aren’t many girls of 8 who are set up to play against boys of 20. She was given harder match-ups to get her used to return shots that came with greater pace. There was nothing accidental about it,” says Peter Buser.

The amount of tennis was increased.

“Piotr was always on the court, whether it was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. He took her to other countries to play tournaments so she could see what was necessary. They were thinking big already then. A lot of time and money was spent,” says Peter Buser.

Later on, a new coach arrived. It was Jan Hansen, who at that time was part-time coach at Køge Tennis Club.

She always had talent for her two-handed backhand, while the rest of the shots needed more work

“She improved a lot. Apart from the normal training with the club’s coaches, I spent a lot of extra hours with her. She always had talent for her two-handed backhand, while the rest of the shots needed more work,” says Jan Hansen.

During that time, Piotr became more and more interested in coaching.

“He absorbed everything from the coaches she had, and his interest began to grow. He absorbed what he could use, and what he saw that was a good fit for Caroline. We talked a lot about what was best for her,” says Jan Hansen.

Sunday was an off-day

She began to beat senior players already as a 9-year-old.

“The first time she played a senior team match, there wasn’t a T-shirt in her size. On her, it was a tennis dress”

“The first time she played a senior team match, there wasn’t a T-shirt in her size. On her, it was a tennis dress, and she played against players who were almost twice as tall as her,” says Helene Treschow.

The amount of tennis was again increased, and the weekly schedule was systematised.

“Her whole week was planned. She was off every Sunday, and she could play with her friends. She practised tennis and did her homework on the other days. When she was 11, she often trained in the morning before she went to school, and then again in the afternoon after school,” relates Jan Hansen.

Piotr Wozniacki had been a professional football (soccer) player and her mother had a career as a top volleyball player (ed note: volleyball is huge in Poland). That had an influence on the effort and the seriousness.

“They had an idea about what was needed. They both knew that something extraordinary was required to go all the way. Maybe that’s why it was so planned from the beginning. Some may wonder at that approach. They came from Eastern Europe, where it was more structured and tougher, some might think. But it’s what was necessary to get to this level,” says Jan Hansen.

The family went all the way to make Caroline better.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen a lot of good players, but no one who has trained and sacrificed so much for it. It was a girl who who was trained for one goal or another from the start,” says Peter Buser.

Always with a smile

Caroline Wozniacki herself described the period and years at the Køge Tennis Club like this:

“I often think back to when I was 10-11, and my dad and I drove out to the Køge Tennis Club at 10 in the evening because the courts were busy until then. I’d trained at 6 AM there, and we went out there late in the evening to train some more,” said Caroline Wozniacki to Jyllands-Posten in 2015.

All agree that it was tough on Caroline. But was it too much?

“I never saw a girl who looked sad. She always had a smile on her lips. There’s a lot of talk about how Piotr was a hard man, and he was, but she always seemed happy. I never experience her being forced to play against her will. And they still have a good relationship. He’s still her coach,” says Peter Buser.

Jan Hansen is of the same opinion.

“She loved tennis and she was always happy and positive. She quickly got ambitions because she realised she was good. There were times it was tough for her, no doubt about it. Who wouldn’t feel it was tough while training six days a week? Sometimes her father encouraged her to train. But the vast majority of the time she just trained and loved it,” says Jan Hansen.

At the age of 11, Caroline Wozniacki became senior club champion at the Køge Tennis Club, and a few months later, she shifted to Farum.

“There were better training facilities at the Elite Centre in Farum, and more good players. The family invested so much in her that they moved with her. They lived in Herfølge, but it was too long a drive to training, so they got an apartment in Farum,” says Jan Hansen.

It picked up speed from there, and she became Danish champion at 14, and declared in an interview after that her goal “was to become number one, the world’s best.”

Non of those three coaches have experienced anything similar either before or after.

“What happened then was completely unique. I’ve been a top 10 player in Denmark and seen a lot of talents, and I’ve coached a lot of talented players, but I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen anyone spend so much time on it. What they did during those years was completely unique,” says Helen Treschow.

Do you think another player from Denmark will come along with the same level as Wozniacki?

“I hope so, but I don’t think so. That’s why we need to appreciate her. She’ll be gone in one or two years, and there’ll be a huge hole in Danish tennis,” says Jan Hansen.

 

Translated by MAN

 

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Danish ATP player Kenneth Carlsen on coping with his undiagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

From Ekstra Bladet http://ekstrabladet.dk/flash/dkkendte/article4317153.ece by Alan Lykke (2008)

Without ever being diagnosed with the disorder, the now retired tennis player is convinced that he at least had the symptoms of OCD for most of his career.

OCD is described medically as a condition with forced thoughts and actions. Definite rituals must be performed exactly if the day isn’t to be ruined.

For Kenneth Carlsen, the goal was to win tennis matches, and out of fear of losing he developed a pattern of behaviour, originally meant as a safety net, but which, over time, became a plague that he only managed to control late in his career.

Most people interested in tennis have seen his serving rituals. First he rolled two balls in one hand, then put one into his pocket with the one hand, then he stuck the other in his pocket, adjusted the strings on his racquet, blew into his hand, and bounced the ball before hitting his serve.

But this regular pattern, which he considered a thinking pause while he considered where to place the serve, was just one of many even worse rituals that ended up plaguing him, he wrote in his book Alene på banen [Alone on the Court] which was published at the end of September 2008.

Hopes to break down taboos

“I’ve included the mania in my book in the hope of breaking down some taboos. There’s a lot of superstition in sports. We need to always perform, we’re always judged. That’s why a lot of athletes – but many others also – have a some fixed things they do in a given situation. Or else they think it will end badly.

“I imagine we all have it to a certain extent, and I open myself up to such a degree in the book that people might get the impression that I should be committed.”

The mania started as a young player, when Kenneth Carlsen rode the bus back and forth from his home on Amager to his club in Frederiksberg. To pass the time he started to say aloud the names of the shops he rode past – but in different ways. Fona became Nafo, Matas to Tamas, Gammel Kongevej to Vejkongen Melgam.

Started as an innocent game

“It started as an innocent game, but as the pressure mounted, the game changed in character. First it became serious, then an absolute necessity, and at the end it became a plague I couldn’t escape from,” writes Carlsen.

He had to sleep exactly eight hours every night, the water bottle had to be placed in a special way, the towel folded according to a definite pattern. If it didn’t feel right, he might turn around and walk back to adjust it, even if he’d just got up to go back onto the court to resume the match.

His sports bag got the same careful treatment. It couldn’t just be picked up from the floor and slung around the shoulder. No, it had to be done carefully and correctly. Four times while Kenneth counted to four each time. If there was a cock up, he had to do it four times four – 16 – times.

Trouble with the bag almost cost him an ATP tournament win.

“The supervisor got me back onto the court where my opponent stood and waited. I half panicked. I didn’t feel I’d done the bag ritual properly. I was beside myself, but I ended up playing fantastic and winning the match.”

Couldn’t you have put yourself outside the rituals when you won without them?

“That’s easier said than done. When you’ve already stressed yourself up totally it can be hard to let go.”

How did you get out of it?

“I did it during my 19 month injury pause in 1999. I got a healthier perspective about my job. I got out of the bell jar, was allowed to live stress-free. I could relax, drink a glass of red wine in the evening and go into town with friends. I didn’t touch a racquet for six months. The I came back and won my biggest ever tournament in Tokyo.”

And that was without the rituals?

“Yes, I didn’t want to return to the bell jar. If the problem returns, and it does from time to time, I nip it in the bud.”

Tennis match fixing in Denmark: “Are you interested in making some money on the side?”

 

From  the Danish http://www.b.dk/nationalt/er-du-interesseret-i-at-lave-nogle-penge-ved-siden-af by Mette Dahlgaard og Eva Jung

“Are you interested in making some money on the side?”

No thank you. 30,000 Danish Crowns doesn’t sound like the kind of money you’d want to risk your career for. But for constantly travelling tennis players, the offer can help pay the expensive travel costs, point out players who said no to the offer.

Do you need 30,000 crowns?

That was the question upwards of 30 tennis players were asked when they took part in a tennis tournament – a tournament at the lowest professional level – in Aarhus and Copenhagen respectively in the late summer. The person or persons behind the offers contacted the players by text message, by e-mail or by Facebook and wrote in English that they didn’t need to lose the match. Just one set would be rewarded with €4,000, the equivalent of around 30,000 Crowns.

“I’m your contact person, and I can meet you in person in Copenhagen to give you a deposit of €2,000 today,  you will get the rest after the job is done,” was the message.

€4,000 is a large sum in a competition where the women’s winner got $1,568 and the men’s got $2,160.

The 17-year-old Benjamin Hannestad is number 58 in the world junior rankings. Despite his age, he was invited to play with the seniors at the Futures tournament in the summer. A couple of weeks before the tournament he received a friend request on Facebook with a profile calling itself “ITF” and used the International Tennis Federation’s logo. With the friend request was the message:

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Benjamin Hannested accepted the friend request and gave his details.

“When I got the friend request, I thought it was part of a process for when you play for money. I could see that several I knew had accepted the request,” he says.

When Benjamin Hannestad had played and won his first Futures match, he received a text message on his phone:

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Benjamin would get €2,000 before the match and another €2,000 “after the job is done”. A contact person in Copenhagen would give him the money.

“There was no chance I would say yes to the money. That’s not like me at all. I was very surprised to put it mildly. Even though I’d heard it could happen, it was still crazy that I’d get this offer in my first tournament as a senior,” says Benjamin Hannestad, who reported the matter to the TIU, the International Tennis Federation’s investigative unit.

Large sums tempt

But other tennis players at the same level might be tempted. Seniors at the lowest levels struggle to raise the money to travel to tournaments around the world, and the money should be seen in that light. And if you don’t have a big-money sponsor behind you, match fixing can be tempting, says Jens Sejer Andersen, international head of the Play The Game initiative.

“Tennis is a sport a lot of semi and quarter professionals play. There are few who earn big money, while there are many who try. There can be lots of older seniors who can’t earn a living elsewhere and perhaps feel  that tennis is possibly their best chance.  Maybe after a few years they get fatigued and develop a certain cynicism and vulnerability to “the good offer”,” he says.

While match fixing in football/soccer requires that at least goal keeper, a defender and an attacker agree to play according to an agreed pattern, tennis is different. All individual sorts, all things being equal, are more vulnerable to match fixing. All that’s needed in tennis are a few balls into the net.

The women’s winner of the Futures tournament, Mai Grage, also received the offer to lose a set on purpose. She didn’t answer the friend request from the fake profile. She figured out the profile was fake because they had no common friends.

“You hear about match fixing at higher levels, but I was very surprised to hear about it at the lowest international level,” she says.

Translated by @markalannixon