Caroline Wozniacki - Taking on the world with a smile

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Stronger than ever: Caroline Wozniacki is keen to get the better of close friend Serena Williams.

One would struggle to find a player who has had a year as trying and tumultuous as the one that Caroline Wozniacki endured.

It is a year that had everything. Love, heartbreak, dip in form, rise in form, friendship, a top-10 return and a sensational marathon.

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– Players back IPTL but poor attendances in Dubai raise questions
– Wozniacki eyeing more Grand Slam finals

Twelve months on from when she got engaged to golfer Rory McIlroy on New Year’s Eve last year (they broke up in May), Wozniacki had one word to describe 2014 – “interesting” – when she spoke to Sport360° during the IPTL in Dubai last weekend.

Earlier in the season, Wozniacki had dropped out of the top-10 and slipped to as low as No18 in the world rankings. She
admits it was depressing seeing her ranking take such a hit and said she stopped looking at the charts altogether at that point.

But from June onwards, Wozniacki reached the semi-finals or better in seven of her last 11 tournaments of the year, including a title in Turkey, a runner-up showing at the US Open and a last-four appearance at the WTAFinals in Singapore. She wrapped up the season ranked No8 in the world.

The 24-year-old then clocked an impressive 3:26 in the New York marathon in November. Perhaps a more fitting word Wozniacki could have used to describe 2014 is triumphant. 

Despite the way the first half of the year went, she insists she wouldn’t change a thing about it. 

“I think everything that’s happened this year and this season has made me the person I am today. I’m so happy and fortunate to be here. Definitely stronger now than I was at the beginning of the year, which is great,” she says.

Wozniacki has a knack for proving people wrong, with a smile on her face, and her latest defiant act was her successful marathon, which many doubted she could do – let alone in 3:26 – while some thought it would damage her tennis.

But just a couple of weeks before the marathon, Wozniacki was valiantly battling through a third-set tie-breaker with world No1 Serena Williams in the WTA Finals last four and she says she suffered no problems in the aftermath of the marathon.

“I felt great. I felt very sore for a day-and-a-half and then after that I was fine. I was surprised how quickly I recovered. I was already running around a day-and-a-half later. So it wasn’t like I felt it too bad,” assured Wozniacki.

Indeed, she appears to be more than content with where she is at right now.

The Monaco-resident had just come back from getting her nails done when we met at the Oberoi Hotel, ahead of her visit to the Dubai International Film Festival.

A couple of nights before, she was playing the piano alongside Frenchman Gael Monfils in the hotel lobby, where they entertained a group of friends which included their fellow IPTL players.

The ex-world No1 has been focusing on enjoying herself, be it on the tennis court or off it. Asked what would be the biggest lesson she got from this year, she says: “Just take one day at a time and cherish the great moments and just live for the time you’re in now.”

That “joie de vivre” spirit has been evident in Wozniacki’s tweets and posts for the past several months. Photos of her with Williams in Miami last summer, or more recently on holiday in the Bahamas, have flooded the Internet, along with images of her appearances at various social events.

No matter her ranking or relationship status, Wozniacki has always attracted the public interest and her openness about her private life has never been affected by peoples’ judgments, which often come in heaps.

“I’m not going to change the way I want to live my life just because people are going to judge me or not judge me because either way that’s going to happen,” she says.

“I just want to be happy and what makes me happy is just do the things that I love to do. I think that’s important. Sometimes things happen you don’t have control over. You just have to take it as is and just move on.”

On how she addresses her critics so calmly, she added: “My parents always told me to be the same person no matter if you’re No1 in the world or No1000.

It doesn’t matter. Always be polite and always be respectful towards others. If people don’t want to be respectful towards me I can’t do anything about it. I’m just going to smile and say ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’, but at the end of the day you can’t make everyone happy.”

No matter her ranking or relationship status, Wozniacki has always attracted the public interest and her openness about her private life has never been affected by peoples’ judgments, which often come in heaps.

Her close relationship with Williams has also been the object of many people’s fascination, especially in this day and age when friendships are rare in professional tennis.

The pair have faced off on court four times between August and October and Williams had the upper hand in all of those contests.

Does she ever worry that her friendship with Williams can pose a particular mental barrier when she faces her on court?

“No, honestly every time I go into any match, it doesn’t matter who I play, I believe I can win,” insists Wozniacki.

“And if I don’t, it just means that player was better than me that day and every time I go into a match with Serena I try to win and do my best. She’s gotten the better of me the last few times, but we’ll see. I’ll try again next year.”

Several players on both the men’s and women’s tours have been hiring former champions as coaches to help them achieve their goals, most recently her good friend Agnieszka Radwanska, who added 18-time major champion Martina Navratilova to her coaching team.

With Wozniacki still searching for a maiden slam title, will she consider hiring an ex-champion to help her father Piotr in coaching her?

“I really like how it is right now, I don’t want to change anything. I think I’m improving my game, I keep getting better. I really like the team I have around me at the moment, I don’t feel the need to take on someone else,” says Wozniacki.

“My dad is not only my dad, he’s my mentor, my friend, my manager, my everything. He does so much for me. We’ve always had a really close bond since I was a little girl and I think that’s very important.

"We work together on court and obviously sometimes you disagree on things, and you argue, but when you get off the court it doesn’t matter. We manage to separate the two things and I think that’s very important.”

Quick hits with Caroline

On her 2014 highlights
I think the US Open finals, but also finishing the marathon in the time I did. Those are the two things stand out the most for me.

On what she wants her legacy to be
I want them to say I was a great player, I was a fighter, I always gave my all and I hope that a lot of the young children and girls will be looking up to me and wanting to be like me one day.

On whether she’ll run another marathon
I qualified myself into Boston but it’s in April, right in the middle of our season so that’s not going to happen. For now I’m just very happy playing tennis and I’m focusing on that.

On her inspiration
My parents definitely. They’ve always been my role models growing up. They’ve always motivated me and when people told me ‘you’re never going to become anything or anyone, you don’t have a chance to become a great professional tennis player’ they were always there for me. They’re a big inspiration for me.

On whether the WTA should adopt any IPTL rules
I kind of like the rules as they are but I think the IPTL is fun to do for a couple of weeks a year. I think it gets the fans excited. It goes really quickly and sometimes the best player doesn’t win because if you have a bad start, it just goes quickly. I like the way tennis is normally but this is so much fun for a few weeks.

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Tomas Berdych to be coached by Dani Vallverdu

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Fresh start: Dani Vallverdu, Andy Murray's former hitting partner, will coach Tomas Berdych (pictured).

World number seven Tomas Berdych has appointed Andy Murray’s former hitting partner Dani Vallverdu as his new coach from next year.

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Big-hitting Czech Berdych announced on his Facebook page on Tuesday that he would be working with Vallverdu and thanked former coach Tomas Krupa, who he had worked with since 2009.

Venezuelan Vallverdu worked with Murray for five years, often acting as an assistant coach, before parting company with the Scot last month.

Berdych, who has reached one Grand Slam final — beaten at Wimbledon in 2010, had previously expressed a desire to appoint eight-times major winner Ivan Lendl, who coached Murray to his first major title in 2012, in the hope that he would take the Czech to the next level.

With Lendl reluctant to commit to a full-time coaching role again, his former coaching partner Vallverdu is seen as the next best option.

“You guys don’t understand how much I relied on Dani,” Lendl said of his successful coaching spell working with Vallverdu for Murray.

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Andy Murray’s new chapter set to start at MWTC in Abu Dhabi

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Looking ahead: Andy Murray will begin his 2015 campaign in Abu Dhabi at the start of January.

Andy Murray will line up at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in January aiming to get his season off to a convincing start, when he faces Gael Monfils of France in the first round.

The former Wimbledon and US Open champion will be looking to get back to winning ways after recovering from a back injury.

– #Quiz360: WIN a bungee jump with Gravity Zone

– Players back IPTL but poor attendances in Dubai raise serious questions

As the end of the 2014 season approached Murray pushed himself to the limit taking titles in China, Vienna and Valencia and securing his spot at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. 

The flurry of victories at the end of the year is sure to be a source of confidence for the Scot who will be targeting greater success in 2015 starting with the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.

As Murray prepares to make his fourth appearance at the Abu Dhabi tournament he commented: “I am working extremely hard in Miami right now to get myself in the best possible shape. Last year was about getting myself back up to the levels required to compete with the best in the world and in 2015 the plan is to take that a step further. Towards the end of the season I was building some real momentum and I’m looking forward to staring 2015 in Abu Dhabi.”

Murray will play his first match on the opening day of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, January 1st, against Gaël Monfils whom he defeated in the quarterfinal of the French Open.

Six of the world’s best players will compete for the title in Abu Dhabi with Murray joined by world number one Novak Djokovic, world number three Rafael Nadal, Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, and the French duo of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gaël Monfils.

Between them, this year’s line-up hold 24 Grand Slam titles and all three previous tournament champions will return to the capital in January.

Tickets for January’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship are on sale at www.ticketmaster.ae and all Virgin Megastore outlets across the UAE or by calling 800 TM UAE (800 86 823).

Prices start from AED 50 for upper bowl seating, with exclusive premier hospitality packages also available including food and beverage offers, star player meet and greets and premier stadium seating. 

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