Working Her Way Back
LONDON--It was only three years ago that it appeared Aleksandra Wozniak was about to burst into the top echelon of the tennis world just as Milos Raonic has done.
Except it didn't happen.
At Wimbledon 2009, Wozniak entered the tournament as the 23rd seed, having strung together a series of impressive wins. But she lost in the first round to Italy's Francesca Schiavone, and soon after found herself basically out of tennis, sidelined by painful forearm tendinitis.
For 10 months, she rehabbed the injury. Sat around her home in Blainville, Quebec. Lost a ton of weight and muscle. But here she is, back at Wimbledon for the 2012 event, and on Tuesday she rolled to a straight sets win over Vera Dushivina of Russia. Regardless of what happens with the rest of this tournament, she'll also represent Canada next month at the London Olympics.
"I feel the momentum is getting back," she said today. "I'm so close. I've been there in the past and I want to get back to it."
Once as high as No. 21 in the world, the 24-year-old Wozniak is now 56th. Still, she believes she's better now than she was.
"It's different, absolutely different. I'm a different person, a different player," she said. "I learned a lot of things. It strengthened my character and how I see things. My perspective. I feel more complete, you could say. I feel more confident I can play against the top players like I did before.
"The injury was tough, 10 months out. I've always been in tennis, so it was very difficult. For the first time in my life I was in the normal world. Being with friends, going to movies, being at home - it was boring, because I'd never had a taste of that life. Its so fast in the tennis world, travelling and competing every week. If you're not playing matches, you're training hard every day."
Against Dushivina, she won the first set easily, then had a few speed wobbles in the second before closing to a 6-2, 7-5 win. That makes her the last Canadian woman in the draw, with Stephanie Dubois blowing a lead and ultimately losing to No. 25 seeded Jie Zheng of China.
Wozniak will now play Zheng in the next round. The two women have played twice before, including last month at Roland Garros, and Wozniak has won both matches.
Last year at this time, it was Rebecca Marino of Vancouver who led the Canadian female contingent into the All-England club. She was knocked out quickly, and after losing in the first round of the Australian Open this year, chose to take a break from the WTA tour because of "intense mental and physical fatigue." There's no indication when or if Marino will return from her mysterious sabbatical.
"I didn't know that she was going to take a break until after," said Wozniak. "Lots of girls on the tour ask me, 'Where's Rebecca?" I just say I heard she's taking a break, but I don't know why.
"Every tournament, we played together. I think she's a shy person who keeps her emotions under wraps. She doesn't talk much. It's a strange break with the year of the Olympics. Whatever it is she's going through, I've been through a lot, and she's just got to get past it.
"Tennis is such an individual sport, and as a player and an athlete you put a lot of pressure on yourself to succeed, to play well, and you want to achieve your goals. For sure, there are always going to be obstacles in tennis and in life. You have to persevere and not give up. I got more determined after my injury. Anything that comes my way I have to find a way to get past it."
Wozniak, for her part, said it wasn't easy to get back to tennis after being out for so long.
"I needed to get some weight back on, get back to my routine," she said. "You know, curfews, waking up. I had to push myself to eat again. I got so lean after not playing. I was skinny. Maybe half the size I am now. Stress and everything and not working hard, and you don't have to push yourself to eat carbs to keep your energy up. It was tough for me."
Wozniak's Polish-born father and long-time coach, Antoni, is now retired from his job as a mechanical engineer and is travelling with her full-time.
Soon, she'll be an Olympian.
"I've been dreaming about it since I was a little girl," she said. "I'm very excited.