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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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.