Talent and skill are essential, but the road to becoming a professional athlete is paved with determination.
Women’s Tennis Association star and The Residences at Seafire ambassador Caroline Wozniacki spoke with Dart Vice President Business Development Chris Duggan in an informal “fireside chat” about her never-give-up determination at an invitation-only holiday social on Dec. 3 at The Nest, the private rooftop terrace at The Residences at Seafire.
Wozniacki said that when she was a small child, she would watch her parents, who were both athletes, play tennis with her brother and his friends.
“They would put me in the umpire’s chair and they wouldn’t allow me to play because I wasn’t good enough,” she said. “But I had this competitiveness inside of me, so I said I wanted a racquet and I wanted a ball. When my parents bought them for me, I remember telling them, ‘I’m going to show you.’”
Wozniacki, who was born in Denmark after her parents immigrated there from Poland, took her racquet and ball and hit up against a wall until she could hit well enough to play with her family. By the age of eight, she showed enough skill that her father started coaching her and at the age of nine, she defeated her mother in a match.
“When I was 10, I beat my brother for the first time and he smashed his racquet into a hundred pieces,” she said. Also at the age of 10, she won the 12-and-under national tournament in Denmark, defeating her opponents 6 to 0 in all the sets of all her matches. Realising her talent, a Danish television crew followed her around for a week.
“They had a clip where I said, ‘I want to be number one in the world and I want to win a grand slam tournament,’” she said. “Everyone kind of laughed at me and my parents said, ‘Maybe we need a goal that’s easier to attain.’ But I said, ‘Nope, that’s what I want to do.’ I love proving people wrong when they tell me I can’t do something.”
RISING IN THE RANKINGS
Days after her 15th birthday in 2005, Wozniacki turned professional. In 2008, she won her first three tournaments and in 2009, she made it to the finals of her first Grand Slam event at the U.S. Open. She would then end the next two years as the No. 1 women’s tennis player in the world, holding that ranking for 67 out of 68 weeks between October 2010 and January 2012.
At the age of 20, Wozniacki had reached her goal of becoming the world’s No. 1 women’s tennis player, but her goal of winning a Grand Slam tournament eluded her. She reached the finals of only one Grand Slam event over the next five years, losing to Serena Williams at the 2014 U.S. Open, and struggled at times with her play, and with injuries. Hampered by an ankle injury in 2015, she tumbled out of the top 10 and finished the year at No. 17, her lowest year-end ranking since 2007. Some saw it as a sign that her career was on the downward slope. Wozniacki didn’t see it that way.
“I finished the year at 17 in the world and people were kind of harping on me and saying, ‘You’ve had a terrible year’ and I was actually thinking ‘I’ve had a pretty decent year. There are millions of people playing tennis and I’m still in the top 20 in the world and I knew that when I am healthy, I can beat anyone.’”
Redemption came in 2017, a year in which she would finish ranked No. 3 and would win the WTA Finals tournament, defeating Serena Williams in the final. Then in January of last year, Wozniacki defeated the world’s No. 1 player Simona Halep to win the Australian Open, finally reaching her other goal of winning a Grand Slam tournament. That victory catapulted Wozniacki back to No. 1 six years after she lost that ranking, the record for the longest gap in between being ranked No. 1.
Wozniacki almost didn’t get through the second round match against Jana Fett in the Australian Open. Down 5-1 in the third set and facing two match points, Wozniacki fought back and eventually won 7-5. She now uses the lesson learned in that match — to never give up — as a teaching point for children.
All was not great, however, for Wozniacki in 2018. This past summer, after a period of feeling very poorly, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
“I would wake up in the morning and I literally couldn’t move my arms,” she said. “I couldn’t brush my teeth or brush my hair myself.”
The diagnosis was both a relief and a disappointment, she said.
“Obviously the first questions are, ‘Can I play tennis?’ and ‘Can I live normally?’”
The doctors assured her she could live normally, but admitted they had never worked with a professional athlete of Wozniacki’s level before.
“So I have to figure it out for myself and just feel my way through it,” she said. “It’s been a mental adjustment knowing I really have to listen to my body and I can’t push it too hard or too far. Changes in my diet and things like that have made huge gains for me.”
After going public with her condition, Wozniacki said she’d received hundreds of messages from people who suffer with the same disease.
“It’s really great hearing people’s stories and hearing what they’ve gone through and the amazing things they’ve done with their lives, even though they face this challenge,” she said. “I want to inspire other people to know they can do anything they want to and set their minds to do, no matter what they are going through.”