Wozniacki embracing ‘fun’ new feeling

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“I can't believe it's already been a year,” reigning Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki admitted. “It doesn't feel like it to me.”

Yet here we are, 50 weeks removed from the moment the Dane crashed to the court in tears of joy having prevailed in a final for the ages at Rod Laver Arena, beating world No.1 Simona Halep 7-6(2) 3-6 6-4 to claim her long-awaited first Grand Slam title.

Now for her next trick: recapturing the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup for the first successful title defence since Victoria Azarenka’s back-to-back victories in 2012 and 2013, starting with a first-round encounter with Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck on Monday night.

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“I think it's a positive to be here as the defending champion,” said Wozniacki, who appears unfazed by the notion of doing it all over again. “I'm just taking it as a nice, fun challenge. 

“My first practice was on Laver, and it was just nice. I felt comfortable straight away when I hit balls on that court. It was just a good feeling. Then, you know, you see your photos all over the place, which is cool. So, yeah, it's definitely great to be back.”

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Life as a Grand Slam winner has taken Wozniacki's popularity to a new level

Returning as a former champion isn’t the only change in Wozniacki’s circumstances since 2018. In October, the 28-year-old announced she had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis on the eve of the US Open, a condition she had been unknowingly dealing with for months beforehand.

“I can't really put a date on it,” she conceded. “I probably just thought I've just over-trained, overdone it a little bit. So it wasn't until I really had a big flare-up that I really was like, Okay, there's something not quite right.”

Thankfully, the condition does not seem set to prevent Wozniacki from pursuing the titles she still craves. Instead, she is learning to tune in to the rhythms of her body more than ever before in a notably low-key post-season.

“For me, it's just all the time making sure I get good massaging, good treatments, ice baths, stretching, do everything even more thoroughly than maybe in the past,” she explained. 

“Then you just listen extra. If you're not feeling good one day, then you take it easier.

“Especially as an athlete, you're even more aware of it – you know your body even better. So I can tell the difference. It's hard to put into words, but I can definitely tell the difference whether it's just soreness from training, or soreness from that.

“I took quite a bit of time for myself, just to relax and enjoy. I started just like the previous year, December 1st back on court. But I think it was important for me just to leave the racquet behind for a while.”

It’s a positive to be here as the defending champion … I'm just taking it as a nice, fun challenge
Caroline Wozniacki on her 2018 title defence

She didn’t completely abandon her life as an athlete – “I'd been doing some gym stuff before then just to keep in shape, make sure I was ready,” she said – but she did her best to switch off, even grabbing a burger after a Liverpool FC match. “I was like, We have to try it, right, while we're here. It was really, really good.”

But now, back at Melbourne Park for the first major of the season, Anfield and arthritis are secondary concerns. For the next two weeks, there’s only one thing on Wozniacki’s mind.

“Every time I step into a tournament, I want to win it,” she said. 

“I feel like I have a chance to win it, but I have to play my best game. Honestly, I just want to hold the trophies. That's really it.”