Ah, if only life were like a fairy tale. Little girls dream about saving the life of a handsome prince, as “The Little Mermaid” did in one of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fables where adventure, love and morality intertwined. One can just imagine young Caroline Wozniacki being enchanted when her parents read her the bedtime story of how the mermaid tried to win over the prince.
How fitting that Wozniacki was born and raised in Odense, Denmark, the birthplace of Andersen. Wozniacki never had to endure the mermaid's tragic loss of her family and her voice in her noble and unsuccessful yet ultimately rewarding quest.
Her middle-class parents were outstanding Polish athletes who immigrated to Denmark. Wozniacki grew up with little adversity, aside from hitting balls alone against a wall for hours because no one would play with her as a seven-year-old. Much like the determined mermaid, she relentlessly chased her own dream of becoming a tennis champion.
Wozniacki improved so dramatically that, as a 10-year-old prodigy, she appeared on Danish television. A year later, her life really took a fairy tale turn when she found a prince of her own. Prince Frederick Andre Henrik Christian, heir to the Danish throne and an avid tennis fan, invited Wozniacki to Fredensborg Palace where they played mixed doubles with his friends. The Prince even attended her Wimbledon junior matches and helped defray her travel expenses with a $3,000 check.
At age 13, she emerged as Denmark's top woman player. In 2009 Wozniacki, 19, broke through and joined the pro elite. With the support of her loving father-coach Piotr, she won tournaments on grass, clay and hard courts, a rare feat, and stunned everyone by reaching the U.S. Open final. There, Kim Clijsters, another attractive and popular blonde, derailed the less-experienced Wozniacki. She wound up ranked No. 4 in 2009 and full of hope that her fairy tale-like journey from little Denmark, a country not known for world-class female tennis players, will continue this year.
In this interview, the cheerful rising star talks about her game and her fame, where she’s come from and wants to go, her passion for fashion, and about the rest of her charmed life.
PF: You've described your life as "just like a fairy tale." What do you mean by that?
CW: I feel that my life is complete right now. I love being where I am, I worked to become a professional tennis player all my life, and now I feel like that my dream has started to finally come true. I feel content.
In an international survey, Denmark was rated the happiest country in the world. What makes you and the Danish people so happy?
It's because Denmark is the greatest place on earth, of course. Or maybe because blondes have more fun. (Laughter) Honestly, I really don't know, but it could be because we find the little joys in life.
You said, "The Danish people like me a lot because I think people can relate to me." Why do people relate to you, a wealthy and famous tennis star?
I didn't used to be famous and wealthy. I think I am still pretty down-to-earth, which makes people feel connected to me. I always like to keep myself grounded, and I do not want to forget where I came from.
The first sign of your great competitiveness came when you were little and you couldn't get anyone to play tennis with you. What happened?
I come from a very athletic and competitive family. My parents both played sports, and my brother Patrik played soccer and tennis when he was young. When I could not get anyone to play with me, I played against a backboard for hours. Then I begged my Dad, so he had to spend hours and hours hitting with me on court.
When you were 11, Prince Frederik Andre Henrik Christian, the heir to the Danish throne, invited you to the royal castle. Why did the Prince invite you, and what was that experience like?
Prince Frederick created a fairy tale for me. He was a big tennis fan, and he heard about me when I was very young and invited me to the Palace, and has even offered to help me with some of my travels. He was very generous, and I still feel honored about being in touch with him.
You had an early tennis rivalry with your older brother Patrik. Please tell me about that, and what he does now?
We are a sports-obsessed family. I used to play a lot with Patrik. He is four years older than me, but I started beating him. Now he is a professional soccer player in Denmark. I am so proud of him. He has always been there for me, and he is one of my biggest supporters. And, of course, I am his most devoted fan as well.
You father Piotr played pro soccer in Poland and Denmark, and your mother Anna played volleyball for the Polish National Team. Besides giving you outstanding sports genes, how have your parents helped you become a professional athlete?
My background is not that unusual. I picked up a racket as a kid and quickly convinced Mom, Dad and big brother on the court [that I had great potential]. Dad then became my coach. My family often travels with me even now, and I am grateful for their incredible support.
Your mother recently said, "We have never put pressure on Caro, she puts pressure on us." What did your mother mean?
I always liked challenges, I like pressure, I thrive under pressure. I think my Mom must have meant this. Also, being a professional tennis player is very demanding on my family, so their lives are also a bit more stressful nowadays. Also, when I was a little girl, I always begged someone to play with me, so I guess I put pressure on them this way too. (Laughter)
In January 2009, former superstar Martina Navratilova predicted: "Wozniacki will rank in the top 5 within a year because she has a great all-around game and a really good attitude." What is your reaction to that vote of confidence?
It is an honor to hear something like this from Martina. She is the best player ever out there, and gaining her respect means a lot to me.
You seem to truly love tennis. What appeals to you most about tennis?
The constant fighting, the competition, the struggle, the complexity of this beautiful game. You have to keep focused and have clear goals, which keeps me motivated.
During the U.S. Open, respected TV analyst Mary Carillo said: "Three years ago at the junior U.S. Open, Caroline was the second seed and was defaulted in the first round for abusive behavior. New she's this sweet little cupcake on the court." Why were you defaulted? And how have you changed during the past three years?
I'd rather not talk about this any more. People make mistakes, and I made one. I had more temper when I was a junior, but I grew up and learned to cope with my emotions better.
You come from Odense, the birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen. What was life like growing up there?
Odense is a very special place; it's charming. I had a happy childhood, and yes, I did listen to Andersen's Fairy Tales before going to bed.
The week before the 2009 Australian Open, you had three match points against Serena Williams in Sydney, but you couldn't convert them and Serena prevailed 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. What did you learn from that match?
I came to realize that I improved a lot thanks to my rigorous off-season training. I always analyze my matches and try to remember key points. I learned a lot from that match about decision-making, about the importance of hitting the right shot at the right time. I feel that I became a stronger player after how I coped with it.
Your biggest win of the year came in the U.S. Open round of 16 when you upset sixth-seeded and 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 2-6, 7-6, 7-6. What were the keys to that victory?
I felt pressured, I felt excited, and above all, I was standing within a hand-reach of my biggest win. I knew I had to go for shots I didn't necessarily feel comfortable with, and I knew I had to keep steady. I executed my plan great. I was disciplined, and for some reason, it all clicked. It was unbelievable because Svetlana is such a great player.
After a nervous start in the U.S. Open final against Kim Clijsters when you fell behind 2-0, you regrouped and led 5-4, 30-15 on your serve. Then you let the first set slip away. What happened?
I got a little nervous, but Kim played great. I don't think I let it slip away. She just played well. She deserved the win, she worked for it, and I don't really feel that I have handed it to her, or let it slip away at all.
Two revealing statistics in the U.S. Open final were winners, which Clijsters led 36 to 10, and break points converted, which Clijsters did on 5 of 8 chances. Do you agree that these two areas were the keys to the match?
Yes. Kim is a more aggressive player than I am, but I am working on being more aggressive. I am still very young. I had to deal with nerves a bit as well, and might have made some poor choices with the break points, too. But there is always room to improve, so I am happy I can work on these areas.
What do you remember most about winning at Stockholm last year to become the first Danish woman to win a Tour singles title?
It created a huge buzz in my home country, and I got a lot of attention. I just wish I could have done that in Copenhagen, but hopefully this year, I can play there when Copenhagen stages its first WTA tournament. I was shocked how interested people were in my win. I got so many congratulatory notes. Two weeks later, fans actually gathered in the hockey arena in Copenhagen to watch me play my matches at the Beijing Olympics on the big screen. Danish people are amazing. They never fail to support me, no matter where I play.
Serena Williams says she likes Twitter because "It's a great way to communicate with your fans." How do you communicate with your fans?
I am pretty active, I write blogs, I post photos on my own website, www.carolinewozniacki.dk, but I also twitter. My first Tweet was on December 2nd. I think fans feel connected to me this way, and their support is very important to me.
The only other Danish woman to capture a Tour title in the Open Era was Tina Scheuer-Larsen who won seven doubles titles in the 1980s and 1990s. Have you talked with Tina about her life and times on the pro tour?
I don't get too many chances to talk to Tina, but she has been supportive, and of course, I respect what she has done in her career. She was a pioneer in a way for Danish women, and paved the way for my being a professional.
Why did you decide to work for two weeks with Gil Reyes, Andre Agassi's former trainer?
Gil is a great strength and conditioning coach, and Andre was always in a great shape. Fitness is a key part of my game, so I felt that Gil could help me, and I contacted him. He is very motivating and pushes me to my own limits, which is very much needed when I am in the off-season.
This year you won three tournaments − Ponte Vedra Beach on clay, Eastbourne on grass, and New Haven on hard courts. What are your thoughts about that rare achievement in versatility?
It could be explained by my all-court game. I feel comfortable on every surface, or I try to convince myself that I really do. I always try to build up my shape, so that my peak is timed for the final. I try to improve on every surface. It has worked so far.
In your biggest U.S. Open matches against Kuznetsova, Melanie Oudin, Yanina Wickmayer and Clijsters, your second serve averaged only 74, 71, 72 and 74 miles per hour. Is this the part of your game that needs the most improvement?
This is also part of being more aggressive. When my second serve improves, I probably won't have to run as much, and then I would be in a better attacking position. I am working on my second serve, though.
Denmark hosted the United Nation's climate change conference December 7-18 with most of the world's heads of state attending. During the past 25 years little Denmark has become the world leader in energy conservation and wind power. What are your thoughts about that?
The current state of the world worries me a bit. Climate change affects every single person and nation all over the world. The conference and the world need cooperation, which is a huge effort. Together, we are stronger. But each person has to add something as well. We all have to take responsibility to conserve energy and reverse global warming.
Mikkel Kessler, the outstanding super middleweight boxer, recently said, "Denmark has 5 ½ million people, and 90 percent of the people know me." How famous are you in Denmark? And do you like or dislike being famous?
People know me and seem to like me. The only negative part of being famous is the tabloids, which often cause some uncomfortable moments for me. But it is part of what I do. I realize, though, that I am a tennis player, not a celebrity, and I live by these athletic standards at all times.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Despite what all the tabloids say, I do not date a lot. I also like to keep my private life private.
Like Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, two of the Tour's most glamorous women, you have your own clothing line and unveiled it at the U.S. Open where you wore a frilly lilac-colored Performance Dress and a Tennis Image Jacket in dark grape. Please tell me about it and what inspired you to do it.
I am so glad I get to work with the fabulous designers of Adidas and Stella McCartney. I just came back from a visit to the Adidas headquarters in Herzo, Germany, where I met the head designers of Stella McCartney. I love fashion. I like to be involved in creating what I wear. Our new collection is simply beautiful.
This year Ivanovic told the Daily Mail newspaper: "There's really not much friendship between the girls on tour. There's so much rivalry and jealousy, so everyone just hangs out in their own camp. In the locker room and players' lounge you can feel the jealousy. It's a shame, because it would be so nice if we could catch up over dinner or go shopping. But, sadly, I have no close friends on the tour." Do you agree with Ana?
Tennis is a very cut-throat competition. We are travelling a lot, practicing, and then heading to the hotel to rest. It is hard to form real friendships while on Tour. But I am fortunate enough to have some great friends among the girls.
On November 28, Serena Williams joined you in Barbados for an exhibition to promote tourism in Barbados. Would you please tell me about that and the four exhibitions Serena and you did last year.
Serena is such a great person. What she and Venus have done for the sport is admirable. We, young players, owe them so much respect. I became close to Serena, thanks to all our exhibitions together. Barbados was amazing, I stayed in a beautiful resort, where I got to train, and have some fun jet skiing as well. The exhibition was organized for the first time, and it was the best first-organized event I have ever been to.
Which languages can you speak?
Danish, English, and Polish. These are the languages I'm fluent in.
At the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships, you beat Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva but you were forced to retire against Serena Williams in the semis because of hamstring and abdominal injuries. That had to be a big disappointment. But what did you learn from the season-ending Championships?
I was not 100 percent fit going into the tournament, and I experienced the worst cramps of my life against Vika. I felt lucky I could pull through. I had to fight so hard. It would have been a miracle if I could finish against Serena. It was hard to call it quits, but I could not risk getting more injured. It seemed wise. The Championships was an amazing experience, and Doha was simply gorgeous.
When your career is finished, how would you like to be remembered?
I'd like to be remembered as a great player, and an even greater person, who left her mark not only in the world of tennis, but in the world in general.
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Food − Tacos
TV Show − "House"
Music − Mariah Carey
Exercise − Boxing, swimming
Sports (other than tennis) − Soccer, basketball
City to shop in − New York
Designers − Armani Exchange, Diesel, Miss Sixty, Louis Vuitton, Gucci
Players when I was growing up: Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis
Beauty Products − Proactiv
Tennis Racquet − Babolat Aeropro Drive
Tennis Shoes − adidas Barricade
Actor − Johnny Depp
Movies − Titanic, Wedding Crashers, Lord of the Rings, National Treasure
Tournaments − Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Indian Wells
Player to watch − Roger Federer
Soccer Player − Fernando Torres
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