Wozniacki: A wedding called off, a bad bout of arthritis—and then a comeback

The spunky Dane, a former world No.1 who has been through a lot in life, comes back as a mother for one more flourish at the US Open

Caroline Wozniacki in action during her first-round win at the US Open (photo courtesy United States Tennis Association)
Caroline Wozniacki in action during her first-round win at the US Open (photo courtesy United States Tennis Association)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s a matter of conjecture whether Caroline Wozniacki, now 33 years old and a mother of two, can go into the second week of the US Open on her comeback from a hiatus of three years.

However, the feisty Dane’s decision to give competitive tennis one more shot once again validates the strength of character she has shown throughout her career.

The former world No.1 and winner of the Australian Open (2018), Wozniacki had to endure the embarrassment and humiliation of seeing her wedding fall through nine years back after the invitations were sent. The reason: Rory McIlroy, star golfer and her fiancé for a number of years, called it off at the eleventh hour with a media release saying he was ‘’not ready’’ for the wedding.

A mortified Wozniacki poured her heart out on a TV talk show back in 2014: ‘’It was very hard because he made it very public from the start. He put out a press release so I didn’t have a choice, you know—it just got put in my face. I was shocked. I thought at least, you know, I would get a face-to-face or something. But there was nothing. It was just a phone call and I did not hear from him again.’’

The hurt was palpable; but shrugging it off, Wozniacki turned her focus back to her sport — playing some of her best tennis in the following years, to remain world No.1 for 71 weeks and also winning her lone slam in 2018. All along, she never let out the secret that she had been fighting major aches, pains and swelling due to rheumatoid arthritis since childhood — an autoimmune disease which made her recovery after each game doubly difficult over the years.

When the pain became unbearable, Wozniacki eventually announced her retirement after Melbourne in 2020, as she needed a break to start her family. “I had no idea how long that break would last,” she said in a recent photo essay in Vogue. “But then, one day late last year, I found myself setting up a couple of sessions on the court. And when my dad visited me in Florida, I realised I needed advice. I hit for 20, 30 minutes — I’m not sure how long... But at one point, I looked at him and said, ‘I feel like I’m hitting it better than I ever have. Am I making that up?’

“He said I wasn’t making that up. And that’s when I knew I had to get back out there.”

The start to her comeback trail has been promising, as she defeated Russian qualifier Tatiana Prozorova convincingly (6–3, 6–2) in the first round. The win has set her up against Petra Kvitova, a contemporary and multiple slam winner in the second round on Wednesday, 30 August (US time) — and it would be interesting to see if Wozniacki can survive it.

Wozniacki acknowledged in the Vogue that she doesn’t know how long she will be able to play at her highest level in her return — though she has the Paris Olympics on her radar for the moment.

“I’m not going to make any bold predictions — but if I didn’t believe in myself, I wouldn’t be doing this: I’m too competitive to just show up and not feel like I’m going to be one of the best players out there,” she wrote.

From Serena Williams to Kim Clijsters, there are no dearth of examples of former aces staging comebacks. Wozniacki, a champion in life in more senses than one, now joins the list.

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