Evening Standard

Feelgood factor: despite her critics, Caroline Wozniacki is in a relaxed mood as she finalises preparations to her Wimbledon campaign. Image courtesy of Evening Standard

I have barely started talking to Caroline Wozniacki at the All England Club when we are interrupted, not by rain, but by Novak Djokovic.

He breezes in, hugs the 20-year-old Dane and says: “You’re the greatest.”

Then, as Djokovic notices me and apologises for interrupting, I ask the world No2 if Wozniacki will win Wimbledon? He smiles as if this is the easiest prediction to make.

“Of course she is going to win,” says the double Australian Open champion. “This is it for her. I’m trying to copy her consistency and she is trying to copy my Grand Slam success.

“We are going to do it together. You can write it: Djokovic and Wozniacki for Wimbledon.”

As he laughs and leaves, Wozniacki adds: “My favourite male tennis player. I am following in Novak’s footsteps.”

Djokovic should have little to learn about consistency, his astonishing 43-match winning run only having been ended by Roger Federer at the French Open. However, the bonhomie between the Serb and the Dane is not just for the media as they live in the same street in Monaco and see a lot of each other (just before I met her, Wozniacki had gone into Djokovic’s press conference pretending to be a journalist from their local newspaper).

What this joshing cannot disguise is that Wozniacki has arrived at Wimbledon with a heavy burden: she may be No1 in her game but has never won a Grand Slam.

However, she refuses to accept that this makes her ranking somehow false as she prepares to take on Spain’s Arantxa Parra Santonja – the world No105 – in the first round today.

“I do not feel inferior not having won a Grand Slam,” says the player, whose best performance in a major was runner-up at the US Open in 2009.

“The rankings show the players playing the best and most consistent for 12 months. I’ve been playing really well for more than a year. I’ve won five titles this year and can play really well on the grass – I won Eastbourne in 2009.

“Wimbledon is very special with the traditions and everything. I won here in 2006 [the junior title] and that brings back some good memories. I am practising really well. Everyone would like to be in my position.”

But this may not be quite the view the world takes of her, or women’s tennis for that matter.

An hour before we met, both Roger Federer, a record 16-times Grand Slam champion, and Wozniacki held their first press conferences at this year’s tournament. There was standing room only for Federer, barely half a dozen for Wozniacki.

So are the critics not right in suggesting that women’s tennis simply cannot compare with the riches the men’s game offers? The moment I ask the question, the smile that has lit up her face vanishes.

“Are you saying there are no great players in women’s tennis? To be honest I am little tired of that question,” she retorts. “When there were one or two players winning everything, that was a problem because they said there are no other players.

“Now there are a lot of players playing well, again the media are not happy because they say there are no great players. The women’s game is great – there’s a lot of great players out there and a lot of young ones coming up.”

Not even the fact the bookies have Serena Williams as their favourite to retain her title, despite coming back from a 49-week injury lay-off, will make Wozniacki accept that this shows the lack of class in women’s tennis.

“In the last 11 years, the Williams sisters have won nine times, grass obviously suits them,” Wozniacki says. “But it is not that easy for anyone to go in and win a tournament, not easy for them either.

“Serena won a match at Eastbourne and lost to Vera Zvonareva, Venus won two matches and lost to Daniela Hantuchova. They are great champions, they are playing well and I am happy to see them back. But there are other great players.”

As proof of this, she gives the example of Li Na, the first Chinese to win a Grand Slam, her victory at Roland Garros coming after Wozniacki lost in the third round.

“I was really happy for Li Na,” she says. “She has a very funny personality, she always comes up with small jokes and always make you laugh. Her victory means good things for women’s tennis.

“China is a huge market, 116 million people watched her win. I am sure there will be boom of Chinese players in the future.”

Nine-times Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova has said there is a greater hunger in China compared to the west, whose youth are easily


“Too many distractions in the west?” asks Wozniacki. “Maybe but the rise of such players is an individual achievement as well. Young players are more hungry because they have not achieved what some of the older players have. They want to give 110 per cent. I give 110 per cent all the time. I am a competitor. I hate to lose and love to win.”

It is her competitive streak that makes her choose defending champion Rafael Nadal over Federer.

“Roger is a fantastic player,” she explains. “He is so technical. Perfect. When you see him he is very calm. I admire Rafa for the competitor he is. Rafa has a great heart. It does not matter if he is five-love down in a set, he will find a way to come back.”

But what about hungry British women players? Here the Dane cautiously skirts round the perennial tennis problem in this country.

“I don’t know why Britain does not produce players,” she says. “I have not thought about the problems of British tennis. You have some young ones coming up – Laura Robson, Heather Watson. Maybe they can do really well in the future. We shall have to see.”

And will she worry if she meets either British girl in this Wimbledon? “Every match is different and tough,” she says delicately. “To play against someone who has home crowd advantage is tough.”

Home crowds can also cause problems as Wozniacki knows all too well. She has come to Wimbledon, having just won in Copenhagen. Her success, in a country where sporting stars are more likely to be badminton and handball players, has given her a celebrity status which, she says, has forced her into exile. So much so that she has chosen Monaco, not for tax reasons, but for the anonymity it provides her.

“In Monaco I can be alone,” she says. “There is no hassle. I can get a court any time with no media around. If I’m in Denmark there will be 15 journalists wanting to talk to me and filming my practice. Sometimes you need to get away from all that. I know the whole country is supporting me, it is a great feeling. But I’m rarely there. And also in Monaco I do not experience the criticism that I can get there.”

Or the constant speculation about her boyfriends, with much talk of a romance with Nicklas Bendtner. The very mention of the Arsenal striker’s name makes her laugh “Nicklas is a friend of mine, I’ve known him for many years,” she insists. “According to the Danish media, I have had so many boyfriends in a few weeks. I just laugh it off. You can’t do anything about it.”

Indeed, Wozniacki has become, as she admits, very much the modern cosmopolitan. Born in Denmark of Polish stock, her agent is in Los Angeles and she has just bought two apartments in New York for investment purposes. “I guess I am a bit international,” she says. “I am a very open person. I have a lot of friends on the Tour. Knowing a few languages helps me as well.”

Yet this world outlook does not mean she has cut links with her past. Her father, Piotr, is still her coach. “I have a great relationship with my dad,” she says. “He knows me best. He is a fantastic coach.”

It was her father, who quite accidentally turned the young Caroline to tennis. “My mum played for Poland in volleyball,” she says. “My dad played football in the Polish league and the Bundesliga.

“I was seven and they did not want to play tennis with me because they said I was not good enough. So I got angry with them. I took a racket and started hitting the ball at home and then at the club where they played.”

Soon she had found a heroine, one who has made her own impression at Wimbledon. “[I liked] Martina Hingis because she was not a big power hitter. She knew basically every shot in the book, knew where to place the ball. She could read the game really well.”

At the end of this Wimbledon she might still be waiting to acquire her first Grand Slam. But, irrespective of that, a week after the ladies’ final, she will celebrate on July 11.

“It will be my 21st birthday and I’ll definitely have a party no matter whether I win Wimbledon or not. And I shall always have a goal: keep improving, win as many tournaments as possible and stay as many weeks as I can at No1.”


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