Poised for a Comeback, on Court and Off
Caroline Wozniacki is on the Comeback Trail
It’s been just over three months since the golf star Rory McIlroy called his then-fiancée, the tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. It was a very brief phone call. The wedding invitations had been sent out days earlier. And what Mr. McIlroy had to say surprised everyone. Fans didn’t see it coming. Friends certainly didn’t.
“I was like, ‘No waaaay,’ ” said Serena Williams, a close friend of Ms. Wozniacki. “I was planning the bachelorette party.”
The marriage was off.
“When it comes out of the blue,” Ms. Wozniacki said in a recent interview, “that’s like a shock. It’s like someone dies right in front of you.”
It was not an easy time.
“You start thinking what was wrong?” Ms. Wozniacki said. “What went wrong?”
And perhaps you think: What did I do wrong?
“Exactly,” she said.
They were a beloved sports power couple. Both were young, both were winners, both had popular Twitter feeds that documented their relationship. They had been seeing each other for about three years.
The Wozniacki-McIlroy breakup was arguably the highest-profile sports split since Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert in the 1970s. And this time around there was no bad boy like Mr. Connors. They were both adored.
Over the summer, Mr. McIlroy has soared to success: He’s won two major golf championships, and now TV and golf executives are breathlessly talking about the Rory Era in the same way they once talked about the Tiger Era. He’s becoming a bona fide superstar.
Ms. Wozniacki has made smaller but meaningful strides since the break: She won her first tournament of the year; she’s won 13 of 16 matches since Wimbledon (losing to Ms. Williams twice in competitive three-set matches); her ranking has moved from No. 14 to 11.
On the same day that Mr. McIlroy won the British Open, Ms. Wozniacki won a small tennis tournament, the Istanbul Cup, which led Stephen Colbert to observe: “As sad as the breakup is, fortunately each of them has moved on to the sixth stage of grief: Winning an international sports tournament.”
Ms. Wozniacki would like to do that again. The United States Open begins on Monday and Caroline is back in her favorite city and she’s ready to continue her comeback. And if there’s one thing she wants to focus on, it’s her game. Not him.
“I don’t want to have my name stuck with him forever,” she said. “I’m my own person. I have my own career. The years we had together were great, and unfortunately, things had to end like they did.”
She added: “I know what I want out of a relationship in the future and what I don’t want. I’m happy being single right now.”
A representative for Mr. McIlroy declined to comment for this article.
Ms. Wozniacki was sitting in the lobby of the W Hotel in Union Square one evening last month, dressed in Adidas by Stella McCartney workout clothes (she’s one of the few women’s players dressed by the designer). She has a pied-à-terre across Union Square Park that she reportedly purchased for nearly $9 million in 2011.
Ms. Wozniacki, 24, was born to Polish parents, grew up in Denmark and makes Monaco her principal home now. She was the No. 1 ranked player in the world at the end of the 2010 and 2011 seasons but she has not yet won a Grand Slam tournament (she reached the women’s final at the 2009 United States Open).
Though she’s well known in sports circles, she’s not quite a household name. Two 20-year-old women sitting across from Ms. Wozniacki at the W, who overheard her talking about her career and her breakup, revealed to a reporter later that they figured out her name by Googling “tennis player breakup” (she dominated the first couple of pages of search results).
After the breakup, Ms. Wozniacki said, she’s found more time for friends, family and tennis. Her father and coach, Piotr Wozniacki, said she’s more focused now.
“I’ve been in the gym all the time, running all the time,” Ms. Wozniacki said, smiling brightly, as she did over the course of an hour. “It got me in a better mood.”
She’s really taken to running: She plans to participate in the New York City Marathon in November for a charity, and though she won’t say it, it’s not that difficult to figure out why. Her wedding was supposed to have been the same month.
“I think at this point for Caroline, she’s looking for some distractions, some challenges, new things in her life now,” said Chris Evert — someone who has had her share of very public splits — during a recent ESPN telecast. “She’s had a tough year emotionally.”
But some in the tennis community are a little perplexed by her sudden infatuation with running. “A lot of people are confused over the fact that she wants to run the marathon,” said the veteran broadcaster Mary Carillo. “Tennis is a game of sprints of undetermined length in undetermined direction over and over again. I understand that she’s doing it for charity, but it seems odd to train for a physical event that’s so different from your own in the middle of your tennis career.”
If there’s one thing that everyone does agree on, it’s Ms. Wozniacki’s high standing among fans and her colleagues. Ms. Carillo compared her to tennis’s former Miss Congeniality. “She reminds me more of Kim Clijsters than anybody,” she said, referring to the former tennis star.
Even during the 2009 Open, when Ms. Wozniacki defeated the sweetheart of the tournament, the 17-year-old underdog Melanie Oudin, she endeared herself to fans. After the match, she roamed the Flushing Meadows grounds, posed for photos, donned a Morten Andersen Saints jersey simply because someone asked her to, and never stopped smiling. She was a hit.
Ms. Williams, who has not spent much time palling around with women’s tennis players except for her sister, Venus, has made an exception for Ms. Wozniacki, whom she described as “honorable and kind and has a really good heart.” Since the split, they have been hanging out a lot. In late May, right after the breakup, they spent time in Miami together and posted photos to Instagram while the paparazzi gleefully snapped away when Ms. Wozniacki was walking around in a bikini.
And Ms. Williams said it was notable how Ms. Wozniacki would not say a bad word about Mr. McIlroy during that time.
“I was like: ‘How can you be so nice?’ ” Ms. Williams said. “She said: ‘I could never hate him. He’s been a big part of my life and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t hate him.’ I was really influenced by that.”
The exes do not keep in touch, however. Asked if she has spoken to Mr. McIlroy since he phoned her to call it all off, Ms. Wozniacki said, “No, not really, no.” She said she did not watch his recent major victories (“I don’t follow his life and I don’t really follow golf anymore,” she said).
“I don’t believe in holding onto someone who doesn’t want to be with you,” she said. “I definitely want someone who just wants you for who you are. I’m very upfront, I’m very honest and I’m very straightforward and I think some people get intimidated by that. I’m not saying Rory did...”
“In general, a lot of people do, and if I’m in a relationship that’s strong, I’m the person I am and that’s exactly what you get.”
Ms. Wozniacki sounds older than her age reflects. (When talking about a match she played at 19, she described herself as “young” using air quotes). And in the last three months, she said she’s learned plenty about herself and how to move forward.
“It’s important in relationships to talk,” she said. “If there’s a problem, you talk about it. That’s normal. Obviously, I didn’t have that chance. At the end of the day, I couldn’t have done anything different. I couldn’t have done anything more. I gave everything I had. And if that’s not enough, that’s fine. I’ll find someone who will.”
After Rory McIlroy called off their wedding in May, Caroline Wozniacki has focused on her game. “I don’t want to have my name stuck with him forever,” she said. “I’m my own person. I have my own career.”
Great interview! Caro
What an amazing person she is!