Poised for a Comeback, On and Off the Court

Caroline Wozniacki and Rory McIlroy were the most iconic sports couple till they were together. After calling off their wedding though, while McIlroy has touched majestic peaks of golfing success, Wozniacki too has taken small but significant steps.

Updated: August 23, 2014 16:44 IST
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Caroline Wozniacki, the former No. 1 women’s tennis player, in New York.


It's been just over three months since the golf star Rory McIlroy called his then-fiance, the tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. It was a very brief phone call. The wedding invitations had been sent out days earlier. And what 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 Wozniacki. "I was planning the bachelorette party."

The marriage was off.

"When it comes out of the blue," 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?" 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 Connors. They were both adored.

Over the summer, 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.

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 Williams twice in competitive three-set matches); her ranking has moved from No. 14 to 11.

On the same day that McIlroy won the British Open, 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."

Wozniacki would like to do that again. The United States Open begins on Monday, and Caroline is back in her favorite city. 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 McIlroy declined to comment for this article.

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Caroline Wozniacki soaks in the sights and sounds of New York.


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-A-terre across Union Square Park that she reportedly purchased for nearly $9 million in 2011.

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 U.S. Open).

Though she's well known in sports circles, she's not quite a household name. Two 20-year-old women sitting across from 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, 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," 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.

If there's one thing that everyone does agree on, it's Wozniacki's high standing among fans and her colleagues. Carillo compared her to tennis' 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 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.

Williams, who has not spent much time palling around with women's tennis players except for her sister, Venus, has made an exception for 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 Wozniacki was walking around in a bikini.

And Williams said it was notable how Wozniacki would not say a bad word about McIlroy during that time.

"I was like: 'How can you be so nice?' " 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 McIlroy since he phoned her to call it all off, 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..."

She paused.

"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."

© 2014 New York Times News Service

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