Caroline Wozniacki exclusive interview: 'I want to inspire other rheumatoid arthritis sufferers'

Vicki Hodges
The Telegraph
Caroline Wozniacki is bidding to defend her Australian Open crown at this month's Australian Open  - AP
Caroline Wozniacki is bidding to defend her Australian Open crown at this month's Australian Open  - AP

It was as the lights were dimming on the 2018 season in Singapore that Caroline Wozniacki finally revealed the secret which had plagued her campaign.

Not wanting to give her opponents an edge or show weakness, the world No. 3 had refused to disclose that she had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis until her final match of the year at the WTA Finals last October.

Scroll to continue with content
Ad

She briefly opened up on her disorder, an autoimmune condition which affects the lining of joints and causes a painful swelling that can lead to bone erosion, and then enjoyed a much-needed off-season break, going to America with her fiancée and former NBA star David Lee and the Maldives. 

Wozniacki needed time to process. Even by the standards of her fellow professionals, the Dane is a fitness fanatic - she recorded a time of three hours and 26 minutes in her first marathon in New York in 2014 - so the diagnosis was potentially crushing. Her holiday provided her with the rest and recuperation required to not only come to terms with her new reality, and the chance to tailor her physical programme accordingly.

Now fully briefed on the condition - which can flare up at any time - Wozniacki has fresh motivation for the new season. Does she hope to inspire others who have rheumatoid arthritis, which affects 25 million people around the world?

<span>Wozniacki celebrates breaking her grand-slam duck at last year's Australian Open&nbsp;</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
Wozniacki celebrates breaking her grand-slam duck at last year's Australian Open  Credit: AFP

"Yes definitely," she told The Telegraph, in her first UK newspaper interview since her diagnosis. "I think when I was first diagnosed a lot of people around me didn’t know how it could affect me.

"Every time you get a diagnosis like that, or are told that your body isn’t functioning in the way it use to, there’s a process you have to go through. For me the off-season has helped. I've had time to spend with my friends and family and look at the positives. It's helped my body rebalance.

"My condition is a day-to-day thing but I’m ready for the new season. I always work hard. I’m always on the court and go to the gym everyday, but if my body doesn’t feel perfect then I’ll work on some technical things - so I’ve had to adjust a little bit."

Wozniacki is not alone on the women's tour in having to battle an autoimmune condition: Venus Williams suffers from Sjogren's syndrome, which affects the tear ducts and saliva glands and often accompanies rheumatoid arthritis. But Wozniacki, as one might expect from the former world No. 1, is determined to plot her own course. 

"Everyone’s different," the Dane said. "You have to find your own way and do what feels right for you and your body because what works for me might not work for someone else.

"I’m very happy that I can still compete with the best in the world and that’s the main thing. I’m only 28. It’s about taking care of your body, resting up but then working hard."

In hindsight, Wozniacki admits there were telltale signs hinting at the condition. She suffered with frequent aching limbs after Wimbledon last summer but attributed it to a bout of flu. Then she skipped the Citi Open in Washington in August with a thigh injury. It was only when she woke one morning in a Montreal hotel later that month unable to lift her arms above her head that she went for further testing and was diagnosed after the US Open. Now the Dane believes she had been struggling with the condition for several months.

"You start looking back at times and think ‘well that wasn’t normal’," she said. "Or you start thinking of matches and tournaments when your body was hurting and you weren't feeling great. I’m happy that I now know what’s going on and can look forward."

Not that she has been focused solely on tennis since her last appearance on court: Wozniacki found time to schedule a trip to Anfield in mid-November where she watched her beloved Liverpool defeat Fulham. Having ended her own wait for a grand slam at the Australian Open last year, she is now hoping Jurgen Klopp might draw some inspiration to end her club's own title drought. 

"I hope they can sustain it," said Wozniacki, who famously stepped out on court at the Qatar Open in 2011 wearing a Gerrard No 8 shirt. "They've been playing so well it would be amazing to see them win the whole thing. It's such a good feeling there at the moment."

Wozniacki, too, is radiating positivity as she plots how to add to her 30 WTA titles over the last decade, starting in Melbourne where she is preparing to defend her Australian Open title. 

Wozniacki ended her grand slam drought with victory at the 43rd attempt last January, silencing the constant questioning of when she would win one of the sport's four biggest titles. As a result she briefly climbed back to the world No 1 spot six years to the day after she last held the top ranking.

Now Wozniacki returns to the city free from scrutiny. She may not have the power game of the likes of Serena Williams or Madison Keys, but her athleticism and battling qualities make her a consistent performer, and a threat - regardless of her arthritis. 

“I feel like time has gone crazy fast since I won here last year," she said. "To be honest, I think very short term, I think about this tournament I’m about to play and then take one tournament at a time."

And will she change her approach her career, post-diagnosis? "I don’t think there’s anyone who can tell you how you should live your life," she says, emphatically. "You find your own path, make your own way. I create my own story.”

What to Read Next

Back