SINGAPORE - In the pantheon of tennis parents, Piotr Wozniacki is undoubtedly among the most prolific. The former footballer matches daughter Caroline’s longevity point by point, serving as her head coach through a career that has taken her to World No.1, a Grand Slam title at this year’s Australian Open, and a run to the 2017 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
Ostensibly an unknowable figure, Wozniacki makes regular appearances as the No.2 seed’s on-court coach, administering tactical advice in breathless Polish. The stone-faced technician, however, was not the one who arrived for a coach’s press conference in Singapore, apologizing for his English and jovially listing the languages he’d rather be speaking.
“I know Mandarin,” he said as he sat down. “French, Polish, Italiano…”
“My language is so bad,” he concluded. “But today I speak with my son [Patrik] two hours before, only English, so I hope that they understand me.”
With children as with members of the media, Wozniacki made himself understood, breaking down what made the difference in Caroline’s opening round robin loss to Karolina Pliskova and admitting the struggle of balancing his dual roles of father and coach.
“I practice with Caroline, I’m talking about the tactical things, and it comes just before match, the big stress, this is typical.
“This is not easy, talking to your daughter or to your players. I recommend that to everybody: no good this way!”
A surprising suggestion from one who for so long has seemed happy to be at the head of the ship, though it must be said: making something work in spite of unlikely odds has defined his two careers, and those of his children.
“We played football, tennis, volleyball or we play mini-golf, swimming, or everything. So no chance that this time I can say, ‘Wow, Caroline can be No. 1 in world.’ But I talked this way to Caroline. This is important from mental aspect. I speak with Caroline, “One day, you can become the No.1 player in the world. You can win Grand Slam.’ Or, with Patrik, ‘You can play Liverpool.’
“What today?” he adds with a shrug. “Today, yes, Caroline wins a Grand Slam this year. But my son goes with T-shirts that say Manchester United. This is unacceptable for the family!”
Even as he advises against others following his lead - “You can support, you can do many things, but not coach. This is a no good story,” he later repeats - he won’t abandon his post, at his own daughter’s behest.
“Today is too late. Caroline says to me, ‘Father, if you stop, I stop.’ So? We have only one house! Should I lock the doors so she can’t get in?”
The compromise has come over the years by adding new voices, referring to the many co-coaches and hitting partners - including Sascha Bajin, who worked with Team Wozniacki last year at the WTA Finals. Formerly with Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka, Bajin left the team shortly after Singapore, and is now coaching US Open champion debutante Naomi Osaka.
“For my idea also it’s good for Caroline that we change the team, bring new impulses to this very heavy job. It’s also important that you change hitting partners. If you play so many hours with one, after this you understand ball coming here, coming here. Your level starts coming down.
“So today we have one guy, play last year professional tennis players, Michal Przysiezny. We speak with him. This guy coming to us just before Wimbledon. So maybe next year this guy will be working a little with us, or after this we change again.”
Wozniacki sees other shifts in the game, noting the sport’s full-scale evolution in equipment, preparation, and praising tennis as a premier sport for women.
“Racquets are different, strings different, everything different. Today? Come on. You take these racquets, I can play power. Look,” he gestures, “My muscle, no muscle, but I can play power!
“Then we take, for example, golf. Woman can win maybe $20,000, $30,000 at a big tournament. Take badminton here, a very popular sport, the best one, yeah? Maybe one billion people play badminton in Asia. How much can make, $15,000? Compare that to men’s football, soccer, men's, come on, big stars, Hollywood.
“For women, there is tennis, prestige for women, money for women, the same as for men, and more, more every day. This sport today, you're talking ten years ago or today, huge difference, huge difference. For me this is fantastic. I can see from inside or from outside.”
Where changes happen within or without, little is different about his daily routine since Caroline captured her maiden major title. Back in Singapore for a sixth appearance and second straight year, the desire and, most importantly, the discipline, is as strong as ever.
“If I saw less stress, I would say, ‘Guys, is this Hollywood? It’s not Hollywood. This is Singapore,” he joked. “It’s the same stress, doesn't matter that Caroline won last year. Yes, it’s a huge thing. She beat everybody, takes the trophy, wins Singapore, and just after wins Australia, Wow. Parents are proud, father is happy, everything.
“But the next day, we’re coming to the practice court with Caroline. Caroline won’t accept father taking two more beers after this trophy or or that. This is discipline. There are three important things to woman tennis. One is discipline. Second thing is discipline. And third is also discipline!”
Wozniacki will be back on court Tuesday evening as Caroline faces rival Petra Kvitova in the second match of the round robin stage.