Caroline Wozniacki was just 16 when she first announced herself in Asia at an exhibition event in Hong Kong that pitted the youngster against some of the greats of the modern tennis world.
She was like a breath of fresh air as she swept into town full of wonder about what life had in store. She held her own, too, against the likes of Grand Slam winners and world number-ones Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters, giving Asia and the world a glimpse of the talent that was to blossom over the following decade.
Now, more than 10 years later, Caroline Wozniacki can reflect on a glittering career that has seen her rise to be world No 1 herself, with achievements on the court that have included a breakthrough Grand Slam title at this year’s Australian Open, along with — at the time of writing — a collection of 28 tournament victories.
Over the course of a decade at the top of the game,Caroline Wozniacki has fought back from injuries and endured the constant cycle of playing and travelling to the far-flung reaches of the world to reach the game’s pinnacle.
Off-court, the Danish star has been the embodiment of the modern professional, a point recently acknowledged when she was named by Forbes as among the top 10 most powerful women in sport. Her accomplishments have included a role alongside some of the game’s all-time greats, and being named as a Rolex Testimonee, along with a seemingly never-ending list of requests for modelling and other commercial engagements.
What’s striking when we talk — down the phone line from the Madrid Open at the start of May — is that Caroline Wozniacki, now 27, has quite obviously matured into a world-wise woman but retained the same sense of joy on show back then in Hong Kong, one that she has always brought to the game of tennis — and to the journey of life itself.
How do you look back on the person you were when you first came to Asia?
It’s funny looking back then. At that age you obviously don’t really know what’s going to happen. But if you had offered me back then everything I’ve been through and achieved, I would have taken it. There are ups and downs, but I am proud of what I’ve achieved and of the person I have become. As I said back then, you don’t really know what will happen, but I had dreamt of this life and I just wanted so badly to make it happen.
Has tennis taught you about life off the court as well?
For sure. You go through hard times, such as losses, disappointments and injuries, and you learn how to cope and how to move on and improve. You have to learn how to set goals and make decisions. Tennis has given me lessons on the business side of things as well and that is something I’m continuing to develop. Tennis has made me the person I am today. I think I would want my children to play sport because you learn so much about life from it.
Working with Rolex has put you alongside some of the greats — including Roger Federer. How does that make you feel?
It’s an honour to be involved with Rolex and with what the company represents. It is the premier luxury brand and known for quality and performance — things I can easily relate to and I hope I’m known for the same qualities. We share the same values and to see the Rolex ads paying tribute to my win in Australia was really a thrill and an honour.
How are you feeling about your game — and your life — today?
I’m feeling good about everything. There are three more Grand Slams to come this year and the important thing is to just get that first match won and build on things from there. I have been through some injuries and as you get older you know more about your body. You learn how to take care of yourself and about what needs to be done to make sure you can give the best of yourself. You have to prepare properly and make sure you’re ready to produce your best. I think that is the same in life, too.
We have to go back to Melbourne in January and to that breakthrough Grand Slam singles victory. How did it feel?
Of course it was very special. Grand Slams are obviously very hard to win — you have to win seven matches over the two weeks. I’d come close before [Caroline Wozniacki was a two-time Grand Slam runner-up before her win in January]
and I admit there were times I doubted it would ever happen.
Was there one point in the tournament when you thought your time had come?
Everything went right for me. You have to have everything go your way to win a Grand Slam. I arrived early to prepare properly and I got stronger as the tournament went on. It all just fell into place. To win was just something else.
You looked totally overcome with happiness.
It was such a thrill and also a sense of relief that I’d got it done. It was just something very special and a feeling I’ll never forget.
Your family — father-coach Piotr, mother Anna and brother Patrik — have always been beside you. How important has that been?
My family have always showed me the way and have showed me I can do whatever I want if I put my mind to it. Playing tennis can sometimes be lonely but to know that they are there for me always has meant the world to me.
They have been your inspiration?
Totally. They have helped me all the way to believe in myself. Their support has been vital. To have them there gives me so much strength. To have them there with me from the start has helped me get to where I am today.
Off-court you’re quite famous as a supporter of Liverpool Football Club. How did that come about?
Well, my father is a Liverpool fan. My mum supports Manchester United. When I was about 13, I played an exhibition match near Anfield [Liverpool’s home ground] and I was taken on a tour. That was really it for me. I just love supporting them.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I hope to have touched a few people along the way and that I will be remembered as a hard worker and a fighter. I hope that I’m not forgotten too quickly and I’m respected among my peers. I think I will be kind of happy when I’m off the scene and have a normal life. I think in 10 years’ time I’d like to have a couple of kids and just be enjoying the family life. I have been very lucky to have lived this life and had the love of the fans and my family.