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May 27, 2024

Caroline Wozniacki: back and better

How a professional athlete and mother is able to do it all
Wozniacki takes a break from tennis with her daughter, Olivia.

Caroline Wozniacki is a professional tennis player who inspires many women athletes across the world. After having two children, this former world-number-one player is making a comeback from her three-year retirement. The tennis industry was skeptical about whether she could be successful, but after a spectacular performance, winning a set against the 2023 US Open champion, Coco Gauff, she proved everyone wrong. “They would rather have me stay retired,” she told me laughing. 

Recently, I interviewed her over Zoom. She’d just come out of playing with her kids in their playroom. Breathless and laughing, she seemed so calm. Being a mother while also managing a career does not sound easy. I was  struck by how happy and stress-free she seemed about her new journey with her kids and tennis.  

According to Wozniacki, her childhood was a big reason she became such a strong competitor. After her parents put her in multiple sports as a child, she realized she loved to win and, at the age of 10, she finally committed to tennis. “It came down to swimming and tennis,” said Wozniacki. But in the end, she decided she liked being outside with her friends rather than in a cold pool at 5 in the morning.

When Wozniacki was about 8 years old, she achieved her first big win. She still remembers this victory in the small town where she grew up in Denmark. Unfortunately, this first big tournament did not provide trophies for first place. “I was very sad after the tournament because all I wanted was a trophy,” she said. To make her feel better, her father bought her a trophy with her name engraved on it. She was very happy and proud when it arrived, and it is still displayed at her parents’ house.

Wozniacki’s father is a former soccer player for the Denmark team and, in addition to providing her with her first trophy, was Wozniacki’s role model growing up. “My dad was the biggest inspiration throughout my career. I would never be playing at this high of a level if it was not for him,” she said.

Her mother is also an athlete who played volleyball in college and, for a short amount of time, on the Polish national team. In fact, her entire family loves to play sports. Every summer, when Wozniacki was a child, they would spend hours playing tennis. Since she was not as good as her family members, she practiced hitting balls against a wall to try to get better. 

But even though Wozniacki’s family loved tennis, in Denmark it was not a popular sport. She describes the tennis community as small but great. Luckily, when Wozniacki was young, an American coach moved to Denmark and trained her, teaching her the value of hard work. Wozniacki remembers her coach bringing an entire shopping cart of balls and not letting her take a break until every ball was hit. “I would be running back and forth for hours!” she recalled. Even though it was tough, Wozniacki is grateful for everything he did for her.

And Wozniacki’s hard work clearly paid off. When she was 10, she played against her brother and finally beat him. After that, she started to play more and dream bigger. As a young athlete, she had two women role models that she looked up to–one was a German tennis player, Steffi Graf whom she admired for her smart mind on the court, and the other was Martina Hingis ,whose work ethic inspired Wozniacki to never give up. 

Even with great coaches and the examples of strong women, Wozniacki admitted that “tennis can sometimes be a very lonely sport.” But with the help and support of her family, she has had a very successful career. “I am so blessed to have had my family travel all over the world with me when I was a younger girl. Having family by your side helps so much.”

Without a doubt, Wozniacki has had an incredible career. She has won 30 singles titles, including a Grand Slam title, a WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Finals title, three WTA Premier Mandatory titles and three WTA Premier 5 titles. Then, unfortunately, in 2021, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and decided to retire. 

During her retirement, Wozniacki had two children, Olivia and James, with her husband, David Lee, a former NBA player. Even though her children are still young, Wozniacki and her husband have already decided to be supportive of whatever sports they choose to pursue. 

After she retired, Wozniacki did not think she was going to go back to tennis. Having to balance a career and being a mother would be hard for any woman, and there are not many tennis players who have accomplished this. But after the birth of James, she started to play a little just to get back into shape. As she began going to the courts, she realized she could still hit the ball very well and, right away, she started to train for the US open. 

Now, Wozniacki seems to have a calm, confident attitude about her comeback. “Whatever happens, happens but if you have the chance to be the best in the world at something, I feel like it would be a shame not to pursue it,” she said. 

While many people think that having children can be detrimental to a career, Wozniacki believes she has actually developed better playing techniques and now plays with less stress. “After the birth of my children, I’ve seen that on the court I am a more calm player,” she said. With this new perspective, she has also realized that tennis does not have to be her life, and that there is more than what the result says. 

She is careful to balance her time between a family and a career. “Now I don’t have much time to hang out on the side and on the court, so I really prioritize my time,” she said. “When I play and practice I’m there, but as soon as I finish, I like to come back and hang out with my kids.”

Wozniacki is clearly excited to be back on the court, and this time she has miniature cheerleaders in the stands. “I am very excited to show my kids new parts of the world,” she said. Wozniacki is ready to bring her kids everywhere she is going to play, especially to the Austrian Open coming up. 

While Wozniacki has had a very successful career so far, she realizes that women still face obstacles. “Being a women athlete definitely comes with its struggles,” she acknowledged. Wozniacki was part of the player council that advocated for women in tennis for much of her career. She had a big voice when it came to changing and reviewing rules, and she helped achieve equal prize money for women in tennis. She also helped find middle ground for many of the issues between the WTA and the tournaments. 

Wozniacki remains passionate about the problem of equal prize money. “Just because we’re female doesn’t mean we do not work hard and don’t play well.” 

But overall, Wozniacki is optimistic about the future of women’s sports. “Female athletes are strong, fierce, and independent women and girls, and I think we are on a good track right now,” she said. “We are getting more attention and more money into our sports.”

These days, Wozniacki is preparing herself for the Australian Open in January 2024. She goes to the gym every day and hits balls on the court three times a week. Closer to the date, she will start working even harder.

But no matter how hard she works, as a mother, Wozniacki seems to have come to the realization that tennis does not need to be what her life revolves around. It brings her peace having her children by her side for this unexpected rebirth of her tennis career. 

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About the Contributor
Maria Stanham
Maria (Mechi) Stanham is part of the class of 2026. She plays soccer at Carrollton and Club soccer. She likes to write about informational topics and influential people.

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    Julie Anne CannonOct 24, 2023 at 10:33 am

    Great story! Love Caroline Wozniacki!