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