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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“I need to improve my game, not change it.” Caroline Wozniacki on RG, Slams and Arantxa Sánchez

Caroline Wozniacki interview in the German net newpaper SPOX by Florian Regelmann Part One

Caroline, the French Open starts on Sunday at Roland Garros. There’s a nice video of you where you, as a little girl, say you’ll be in Paris later. Did you realize already then that you were going to be a professional tennis player?

(laughs) Yes I’ve believed since I was a kid I could make it. Although there were some bad periods on the way to the top, I’ve never doubted it. I’ve always had the dream of playing the big tournaments like the French Open and hopefully winning one sometime. When I saw the clip recently, I couldn’t believe I’d said that. It was cool to see it again. So I though I’d share it with my fans.

You’ve never done very well at the French Open – you’re best result is a quarter-final in 2010. Is there a reason why Paris has always been a disappointment for you?

Not really. I don’t really know why I haven’t had better results up to now at the French Open. My game really should fit on clay, but hopefully I can change that this year. In any case, I’m working hard at and I’ll give it everything I have in Paris. Hopefully it will be my year.

A first Slam title would definitely make 2015 your year. You’re still waiting for that big win. Are you felling pressure?

No. I hope that a Slam title is just a question of time. I work very hard every day to reach that goal. I know that’s what every training session is for – because I want to win a Slam. It’s one of the last things that I’m missing in my career. I’ve won pretty well everything else. A Slam title would be fantastic.

Does it bother you that you’ve won over 20 titles and were number one for a long time, but what’s mostly talked about is that you’re missing s Slam?

Honestly, I really don’t think about that much, I really don’t. As a tennis player, you have two big dreams: to be number one and to win a Slam. I’ve accomplished the first one, the second one not yet. But I hope I’ll have at least one Slam on the shelf before I hang up my racquet.

After all, you’ve been close. You’ve twice been in the US Open final, losing the one time to Kim Clijsters and the other to Serena Williams. What are you lacking to make the big score?

I don’t know if I’m lacking anything. I’ve beaten every player on the tour and shown that I can compete. It’s simply a question of the right timing and being in absolute top form over two weeks. Winning a Slam isn’t easy. If it were easy, everyone would have done it. It’s not easy either to win a tournament or be number one. I believe I’m good enough to win Slam titles. I need to improve and work hard, and it will happen eventually.

In 2010 you became number one in the world after a win in Peking. What do you remember about that moment?

Becoming world number one meant so much to me. Looking at the rankings list and seeing your name at the top is very special. Growing up, my dream was always to be number one. I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. For me it was a very big moment I’ll always remember. It was an incredible feeling.

When looking for reasons why you haven’t won Slam titles, the answer always ends up being, you aren’t aggressive enough. How do you feel about that criticism?

“I won so much playing my game, but it’s not enough for a Slam? I honestly don’t think it’s about my game or changing anything in it. It’s about hitting top form for those two weeks. It just hasn’t happened yet for me. My strength is to be aggressive from defence – that’s my game. I need to improve my game, not change it.

You’ve had some deep valleys in your career. 2013 was a difficult year for you. How did you climb back out again?

Because I was number for a while, and it was my ambition to stay there, then it’s a bad year when you finish the year at number ten. And looking back, a lot of players would have been happy to have had my 2013. In sports as in life, there are ups and downs. It’s quite normal. When things aren’t going so well, there’s only one thing you can do: keep going and work even harder than before, and your time will come again. So that’s what I did.

Currently you’re world number five and have been playing consistently well for some time. Is this the best Caroline Wozniacki ever?

“Yes, I’d definitely say that. I feel that I’m constantly improving. I’m definitely playing better than when I was number one. But the thing is, all the other players are improving, the level just gets higher and higher. Everyone wants to beat you. Everyone has analysed your videos and knows exactly how to play you. You really have to keep trying to stay one step ahead.

This year you tried to get new input from a brief collaboration with Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. What did you hope to gain?

We worked together for a couple of weeks in Miami. It was really a great experience for me. Arantxa is such a positive person. I love the energy she radiates. I got a few tips from her because there are very few who know more about clay court tennis. Spending time with her was great fun. We keep in touch regularly and hopefully we can work more intensively together in the future.

Translated by MAN