Caroline Wozniacki to make tennis comeback after two childbirths and rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis

Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki attends a news conference

Wozniacki spent 71 weeks atop the world rankings during her career – Reuters/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

Former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki has announced her tennis comeback, after giving birth to two children and being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

During her career, Wozniacki held the top ranking for 71 weeks and won one major title at the 2018 Australian Open.

The Dane retired in 2020 aged just 29 after the effects of her RA – an autoimmune disease which causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints – became too painful to manage alongside her tennis.

In the three years since her retirement, Wozniacki pursued punditry work and had two children with her husband, former basketball player David Lee.

It was not until after her second child James was born last October that she picked up her racket again, and in the months since she decided that her career remains unfinished, thanks to the advice of her father and former coach Piotr.

Now 32, on Thursday Wozniacki formally announced that she plans to return to the court in August, with her eye on “the US Open, Australian Open and Paris Olympics”.

The US Open will be her first major back on court, and on Thursday the USTA announced she had been awarded a wildcard to the main draw. She was twice a finalist in New York – in 2009 and 2014 – and she believes she has a chance of finally winning the title.

“Three years ago, having achieved almost everything I’d ever set out to do, I walked away from the professional tour,” Wozniacki wrote in a first-person piece for US Vogue.

“I wanted to start a family, and I needed a break. I had no idea how long that break would last. 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 realized 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.

“I’m going to play the US Open… I’ll start out playing in Montreal just to get back into the groove, and then we’ll all head to New York. After that, I’ll have a couple of months to prepare for Australia, and we’ll take it from there. The Paris Olympics are definitely a goal too.

Winner Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark kisses the trophy

Wozniacki won her only major in Australia in 2018 – Reuters/Issei Kato

“Can I win the US Open? I think so. Can I win the Australian Open? I think so. That’s why I’m doing this. And I guess we’ll see what happens. I think it’s a great story. I think it’s awesome.”

During her career, Wozniacki was known for her defensive baseline game as well as her friendly temperament which endeared her to fans. At her last retirement match at the Australian Open, a third-round loss to Ons Jabeur, the crowd sang “Sweet Caroline” to her as she walked off for what they thought was the final time.

What they did not know was the extent of pain she was in, two years on from her announcing the RA diagnosis at the peak of her powers.

Writing in Vogue, alongside a stylish photoshoot of her on court with her children, Wozniacki said that there were points in 2018 when she “couldn’t get out of bed.. brush my hair or brush my teeth” due to the pain she was in.

She managed the condition on tour for two years, thanks to a strictly followed diet, sleep and training schedule which alleviated the inflammation, but eventually got burnt out by the process.

Now plotting her comeback, she said: “With my RA, I’ve been paying careful attention to how my body is reacting. And, honestly? So far, so good,” she said. “The long break seems to have done wonders in terms of recovery, and mentally, I’m fresh. I’m not putting as much pressure on myself, but at the same time I know when I’m out there, I’m going to be fighting.”

During her career she forged a close relationship with fellow champion Serena Williams, who beat her in the 2014 final in New York. In her Vogue op-ed she credited Williams for her “support” in this comeback and with helping inspire her to return to the circuit as a mother. She also credited Kim Clijsters, who remains the only woman since 1980 to win a major title after giving birth, beating Wozniacki in the 2009 US Open final.

“I want to prove that to myself and to those women. You can have both: You can be thrilled with your family and with everything at home and still have a career – and be great at it.

“Let’s also understand: Most of the men on tour don’t have to retire to have a family – they can play through. You had Roger [Federer], who had four children while playing. Novak [Djokovic] has two, and Rafa [Nadal] has a child; [Andy] Murray has four.

“For the women, though, it’s mostly been either/or, and I’d like to be part of changing this. Victoria Azarenka, Kim Clijsters, and Serena have already shown what it takes to have a child and return to the tour. It’s not easy by any means, but it is possible.”

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