NEW YORK (AP) — Caroline Wozniacki didn’t even know where her rackets were.
That’s how far from her mind a return to tennis was for the former No. 1-ranked player and major champion who is now a 33-year-old mother of two — and, until quite recently, was a retired 33-year-old mother of two.
“I didn’t miss it,” said Wozniacki, who returned to the tour earlier this month and will play her first Grand Slam match since 2020 on Monday when the U.S. Open gets started. “I played since I was, obviously, very, very young. It’s been part of my life and my lifestyle for so long. I needed a break.”
Still, she explained, she does consider her sport an activity she’ll be able to do forever — “No matter if I’m 33 or if I’m going to be 80” — and one that’s good exercise, so she occasionally began to play for fun with some friends to get a bit of a cardio workout.
“It just happened to be that I felt like I was hitting the ball extremely well, that I still am young enough to give it another shot,” Wozniacki said with a smile. “You only live once. So why not?”
Wozniacki, who is 1-2 in this second career, won 30 titles and $35 million in prize money during her first go-round.
Her greatest triumph arrived at the Australian Open in 2018, when she claimed the title by defeating Simona Halep in the final after facing match point in the second round of the tournament. That Grand Slam trophy allowed Wozniacki to return to No. 1 in the rankings after an absence of six years.
Flushing Meadows also was the site of some of the most significant on-court moments for the Danish player, best known for her defense and tactical ability.
In 2009, she reached her first major final at the U.S. Open while still a teenager but lost to Kim Clijsters.
Then, in 2014, she again participated in the final but lost to her good friend Serena Williams.
There also were three other runs to the semifinals in New York before she decided to walk away from the game after one last trip to the Australian Open early in 2020. She wanted to start a family. She also had announced in 2018 that she has rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune condition that can cause pain and swelling in the wrist and other joints.
“Such a great player in our sport, for so long. She’s had a lot of success here, as well, at the U.S. Open,” said Jessica Pegula, an American who is seeded No. 3 in this year’s bracket. “It’s interesting to see her back. … It’s nice having her back and feeling her presence a little bit. She’s always super nice, really happy.”
This trip to the big city is, of course, a bit different for Wozniacki.
For one thing, she is accompanied by her husband, former NBA player David Lee, and their 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, and 10-month-old son, James.
That presents some logistical challenges, as any working mom knows. It also provides some smiles.
One example Wozniacki shared: She recounted that before she headed to the tournament site on Friday, Olivia said: “Mommy. Mommy. Can I go with you to work? I want to be like you. I want to play tennis.”
“When I’m on court, I know that I’m 100% on court, giving it my all when I’m there,” Wozniacki said. “When I’m with the kids, that’s what matters most to me at that point.”
She acknowledged that another challenge is the extra effort it takes to recover from a practice session or a match now that she’s older.
But she also said her “body is cooperating” so far.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to play for,” Wozniacki said, while noting that she does intend to map out “more of a full schedule” in 2024. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a year, two years, three years. I can’t predict the future.”