A year on from her first major triumph, Wozniacki is hungry for more
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A year on from her first major triumph, Wozniacki is hungry for more

Caroline Wozniacki feels Rod Laver Arena under her feet again, and sees her larger-than-life image all over Melbourne Park, and pinches herself to think that it is already a year since she won her long overdue maiden major championship here.

It's been a packed year, not all of it with action.

Defending Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki.

Defending Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki.Credit:AP

Wozniacki's victory over Simona Halep also returned her to No.1 in the rankings, a position she'd previously long held, but uncrowned if you like, without a title. But she exited prematurely from the other three majors and forfeited No.1 to Halep.

Then in October, she revealed that she had been learning to live with rheumatoid arthritis since before the US Open. At 28, it was a shock. "I just thought I'd over-trained, overdone it a little bit," said Wozniacki, whose hallmark is her inexhaustible work ethic. "So it wasn't until I had a really big flare-up that I was like, OK, there's something not quite right."

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Managing it was a matter of being attuned to her body, she said. "As an athlete, you're even more aware of it.

"You know your body even better. It's kind of hard to put into words, but I can definitely tell the difference whether it's just soreness from training or soreness from [arthritis].

Since her diagnosis, Wozniacki is paying even more attention to her body.

Since her diagnosis, Wozniacki is paying even more attention to her body.Credit:AAP

"You listen to your body. You try different things." She runs through a checklist. "For me, it's making sure I do everything even more thoroughly than maybe in the past," she said. "Then you listen extra. If you're not feeling good one day, then you take it easier."

Wozniacki is not looking to create an alibi for reduced performance. After all, she won the China Open last October without dropping a set.

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Nor is she complaining. With fiance and former NBA star David Lee, she had the luxury of an extended off-season break, variously in the Maldives, the Virgin Islands and at a Liverpool match at Anfield, a bucket list item. "If you ever go, they have great burgers right outside," she said. But she was back on duty on court on December 1.

Wozniacki is acutely conscious of her tennis-playing mortality. Two months ago, contemporary Agnieszka Radwanska announced her retirement, and last week, Briton Andy Murray as good as announced his. For Wozniacki, it's context.

"It's kind of weird because I grew up playing with [Radwanska]. We played juniors together. I think we played the first time against each other when I was eight and she was nine, something like that," she said. "It's kind of crazy that all of a sudden she's not on tour any more."

The pair remain in contact. "She doesn't seem to be missing it right now," Wozniacki said. "She's having a blast. She's enjoying her life. I think she's skiing right now."

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Wozniacki said Radwanska knew the time was right. For Murray, it is different, and sadder. He leaves on the game's unforgiving terms, not his own. "I'm sad on behalf of Andy because he is so much fun for me to watch," Wozniacki said. "I think he's entertaining. He's such a great athlete. He stood up for us, too. I really appreciate what he's done for women's tennis."

She and Murray crossed paths briefly on Saturday. "He loves the game. You can tell how passionate he is about it. I guess you can't do anything about it. That's sport sometimes," she said. "You can't help when your body says it's enough. Sometimes life is more important, although it seems hard at that time."

A veteran now, Wozniacki knows what she wants, and it is not the No.1 ranking. She's been there and done that. Without titles to match, it felt hollow. "Honestly, I just want to hold up the trophies," she said. "That's really it." Which takes us, and on Monday her, back to the beginning.

Greg Baum is chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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