Aleksandra Wozniak: Quietly Storming Back
Published April 02, 2012 12:00
CHARLESTON, SC, USA - A few years ago she was on the verge of the Top 20, a nagging forearm injury stopping her rise. But Aleksandra Wozniak has been quietly storming back up the rankings this year, and with a gutsy victory over Christina McHale at the Family Circle Cup on Monday afternoon she showed she's very ready to keep that storm going on her favorite surface.
After a 12-month span that saw her win her first WTA title at Stanford and reach her first Grand Slam second week at the French Open, Wozniak set a career-high of No.21 in June 2009. But in 2010 something happened that would halt her progress - at the very site of her biggest breakthrough, Stanford, she injured her forearm and would be on and off the tour because of it over the next 10 months.
"I was playing Melanie Oudin and we finished at midnight - it was really cold that night," Wozniak said. "I didn't feel it then but the next day I did. I had to withdraw from San Diego and Cincinnati - I played in Montréal and the US Open, but then I had to stop. I didn't play consistently for a good 10 months."
With so much time out, Wozniak's ranking suffered - she fell to No.200 last August. But she didn't spend long there at all: as soon as she hit that number she began piling up the wins, getting to No.105 by season's end in November.
After only three months of the 2012 season, she's already up to No.60.
"I won a $100,000 tournament in Nassau, which was a lot of points, and yes I'm up to No.60, which is great. I'm aiming for Top 50, and of course the Olympics. I've also been very close in some of the matches I've lost - I was 5-3 in the third set against Agnieszka Radwanska in Dubai, then against Sloane Stephens at Indian Wells I had match point in a crazy tie-break, and then I had match point against Venus Williams in Miami too. I couldn't close those ones out, but I'm working on that mentally, and I can really feel my confidence rising overall.
"The match against Venus was really special. Not just to play Venus, but the crowd was supporting us both and cheering like crazy. When I was walking off afterwards I signed some autographs, and they were very nice to me about that - but you can't be angry at the world if you lose! I was one point away and I blew it at that moment, but I kept fighting to a tie-break. I was happy about that.
"Before my injury I was winning those matches - I hope to get back there."
Wozniak certainly did that against McHale on Monday, lifting her game from 4-all in the third set to win in just under three hours, 75 57 64. "I lost to Christina in three sets when I qualified at the US Open last year, so I'm happy this time I won," she said. "She's playing really well and has a really bright future."
So how does a player go from being down and out to up and on the rise again?
"Throughout that 10 months of tendonitis, I realized how badly I missed tennis. Now I love even the little things on the tour. Of course it's boring to pack and unpack your bags, and spend time at airports and in hotel rooms, but when you're on the court and in pretty stadiums with so many fans, and playing the best players in the world, you realize you're really lucky to do this for a living.
"Also, my dad is on the tour with me now. He always coached me while I was at home, but since he had to work too, it was usually my mom and hitting partners who were travelling with me. He just retired in December, and he has been travelling with me this year. It wasn't consistent when I could only work with him when I was at home - now he can see my matches and know better what I need to work on. Of course it can be tough when your dad is also your coach, but we have very good communication, and it's improving all the time. It's a daily effort from both of us - you have to have the will to make a constant, daily effort."
Stanford is on hardcourts, but her other two WTA finals have come on clay. And now that the clay court season is in full swing, Wozniak is in her element.
"I love clay. It has always been my favorite surface. I love mixing it up, sliding - it's just more fun. I'm excited and I hope I can win as many matches as I can."
Whatever happens, Wozniak is just happy to be back in the thick of things, bringing her mix of power, consistency and class to courts around the world.
"I've been through a lot of setbacks, disappointments and failures. I've had to wait it out. It was tough, but now I'm more positive and more patient, and I have more character. If you don't have character, you can't make it on the tour. You compete every week, and when you aren't, you have to train your butt off.
"My passion is there."