Australian Open: New Moms Bringing Different Perspective To The Happy Slam

Angelique Kerber (photo: Porsche AG)

MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, January 13, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber of Germany, both former No. 1s, share many things in common. Both have won the Australian Open, Kerber in 2016 and Wozniacki in 2018. Now, both are mothers who have returned to the WTA Tour after taking extended layoffs to start families.

Wozniacki, the mother of two children, Olivia (2) and James (1), retired after the 2020 Australian Open to start a family with her husband, former NBA basketball star David Lee. Eager to return to tennis, she began her comeback at the US Open last summer and made a surprising run to the fourth round, which included victories over Petra Kvitova and Jennifer Brady, before losing to eventual champion Coco Gauff.

Meanwhile, Kerber took off all of the 2023 season after giving birth to a daughter, Liana, last February. She has not competed since a third-round loss to Elise Mertens at Wimbledon in 2022. Although her 16th Melbourne appearance will be her first WTA Tournament since coming back, she returned to competition last week and played five matches for team champion Germany at the United Cup in Sydney, a mixed team event, and went 1-4 with a win over Ajla Tomljanovic in the semifinal round.

According to veteran tennis columnist Christopher Clarey, writing in the New York Times, Kerber “can still move and read the flow of play beautifully, but her counterpunching game looks to many as underpowered at this stage.”

Wozniacki and Kerber are among a wave of eight mothers that also includes Elina Svitolina and Taylor Townsend in this year’s Australian Open women’s singles main draw, which begins play on Sunday. Along with multiple major champions Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka, Wozniacki and Kerber are also part of a quartet of mothers in Melbourne who have won the Australian Open as well as achieved a World No. 1 ranking.

It all adds up to a new perspective for the Happy Slam. Returning to action after maternity leave — being a working mother on tour — has become more common than ever before.

The camaraderie Wozniacki, 33, and Kerber, 35, share allows them to be competitors on the tennis court and good friends off of it. Following a shared practice on Margaret Court Arena Friday morning, both spoke during their AO Media Day news conferences about the challenges each has faced during their respective comebacks after becoming moms.

“All of a sudden I became the experienced one because I had a child before,” Wozniacki said of her friendship with Kerber. “We talk about it. Again, experience is so individual. Definitely, when she had questions, she could ask me.

“In general, we just catch up on a regular basis, even when we weren’t on tour, seeing how life kind of was going. It’s nice to see her back. I got a nice practice in with her today.”

“I’m with Caro in touch all the time,” adds Kerber, who was a guest at Wozniacki’s 2019 wedding in Tuscany. “We’re really close friends. It’s nice to see her back, as well. We are in the same stage, to be honest. Of course, there are completely different things now we are talking about. When you’re looking back 10 years ago, where we are now, it’s a lot of change in the last 10 years.”

Says Wozniacki: “It’s great to still have our generation here. There’s a lot of young players. Some players were probably born the year I turned pro. I definitely feel young on the inside, but I realize I’m no longer in my 20s. In tennis, I’m in the older generation.”

Kerber, who will turn 36 on Thursday, said: “We love the sport. It’s so great to be here and perform again on a high level.”

Wozniacki was asked if she connects differently with other mothers than with other players. “Not so much,” she said. “I think you obviously have your close friends on tour that you connect with, that you talk to on a regular basis.

“I think it’s like at any workplace, there’s players you get along with better than others. You only have a certain amount of time during the day. I barely have time to look at my phone on a day-to-day basis. I kind of prioritize the people I’ve been close with for a very long time.”

Wozniacki, ranked 252nd and appearing in the main draw courtesy of a wild card, will play No. 20 seed Magna Linette of Poland, currently ranked 24th and a Melbourne semifinalist last year, in a featured match on Margaret Court Arena Sunday evening. Meanwhile, the 657th-ranked Kerber will debut on Tuesday against 2021 finalist Danielle Collins of the United States. The winner could face World No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland in the second round later during the first week of the Australian fortnight.

“For me, it’s one of the best tournaments with best memories,” said Kerber, who also reached the Melbourne semifinals in 2018, the year Wozniacki won her only major to date. “It’s really special to be back and start here.”

“It’s definitely a special place for me,” said Wozniacki, who will be making her 14th Australian Open appearance this year and first since losing to Ons Jabeur in the second round of the 2020 event. “I always really enjoyed playing here. Coming back here, obviously winning the tournament. It’s something I don’t take for granted. It’s really great to have the opportunity to play again.”

By the numbers

Caroline Wozniacki, who made her Happy Slam main draw debut in 2008, will bring a 37-15 career win-loss record at the Australian Open into her first-match against No. 20 seed Magda Linette, while Angelique Kerber is 32-17 lifetime in 15 previous Melbourne appearances.

“Quotable …”

“It was a very special couple weeks for me. I think winning my [first] Grand Slam and then getting back to World No. 1 at the same time was definitely a very, very special feeling and a dream come true.”

Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, during her Australian Open Media Day news conference, on the special feeling of winning her first Grand Slam, the 2018 Australian Open.