For a long time I’ve meant to write about Caroline Wozniacki, the Danish player (of Polish parents) who surprised me by retiring in 2020, at the age of 29. For as much as any player, she helped inspire Famepunk.
Specifically, I credit watching Wozniacki with a major plot point. In the first volume, US Open 1987, the heroine’s progress through the tournament is causing her to miss freshman orientation activities at the college of her dreams; in the end, she doesn’t go. College or career is a choice that tennis players aren’t alone in facing. For me, college was the only option, ever; most people I knew were the same, partly because we were none of us blessed with astonishing athletic talent. Caroline Wozniacki, who was, caught my notice early in her career when she started winning a US Open women’s warm-up tournament that used to be held every August in New Haven. I watched her play on cable TV, listened to her interviews; I was watching the night she put her ponytail into what became her trademark braid, which I never liked quite as well.
It might have been during a championship match when it occurred to me that Yale, seeing as how she was 18 and in town, ought to make Caroline Wozniacki an immediate offer of admission. It was clear to me that she could more than handle the work entailed to graduate at the top of her class. Maybe (definitely, I thought) tennis doesn’t need another young blonde goddess—not as much as the whole planet, really, needs intelligent, articulate, strong, healthy, charismatic young women who speak multiple languages fluently as teens, to study and train for leadership roles in the society to come.
|2017; By Christian Mesiano – Caroline Wozniacki, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia|
Yale would have been the starting point for that ascension I was picturing, and later played around with in Famepunk. I was sorry that Wozniacki didn't enroll at the time. Back then (2008 or 2009), the first objection to the idea would have been that compared to the pursuit of an undergraduate degree, even in New Haven, a full-fledged professional tennis career must offer immeasurably more key preparation for a successful life in the rooms of power—rooms already crowded with Ivy Leaguers whom her fame and wealth, self-earned, would start her on a step above. By this argument, naturally unanswerable then, once she played out her time in the WTA and retired a multiple champion, Caroline Wozniacki would pause, maybe marry and have children (as she has done), and then go out and take her place as an important decision-maker somewhere. Danish politics, diplomacy, major philanthropy or big relief projects, head of a green technology company—anything.
Instead, here we are, with the recent announcement that she’ll be competing next month in Canada preparatory to another crack at the US Open title. What happened? In the past year she’s already returned to tennis as a match commentator; she’s got a sleepy, Kim Novak-style voice which I don’t mind but no one would argue that we need more match commentators in the universe. This week she’s playing at Wimbledon in the Legends event, which brings retired players, many great names, back to the courts for the public to enjoy. But with players like Navratilova, Hingis, Sabatini there, no one is really clamoring to see Caroline Wozniacki, too, not when she’s only been gone a few years.
What’s behind the comeback phenomenon? Is it really, as cynics suggest, that top players just can’t stand to give up the perks of a champion’s lifestyle? Or is it being the center of attention that they come to miss too much to stay away? It must feel like free money, after a point, if people keep letting you earn when you’re long past your prime; a nest egg, a comfortable cushion, or a grateful way out of some financial or family dilemma—comebacks must come in handy, for sure.
But the productive lifetimes of which we were cheated, somehow—they don’t come back. They never were. Admirable womanhoods of power, impact, and long duration, exchanged for short primes and six-decade twilights: someone with Caroline Wozniacki’s overall potential and abilities shouldn’t have become irrelevant to the rest of us so young. And she senses this, knows this; it’s why she’s coming back. Is she moving in the right direction, though? Now might be a better time to consider getting an advanced degree.