The Canadians are making some news in tennis this week, notably with 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov as he rises quickly the ranks, and new No. 1 woman Françoise Abanda’s misadventures on social media.
But another Canadian, by far the best player of the previous generation, has had to go the crowd-funding route to try to keep her career going.
Aleksandra Wozniak reached a career high of No. 21 in the WTA Tour rankings in 2009. A decade ago, she won the tournament in Stanford out of the qualifying.
The next year, she reached the round of 16 at the French Open and the third round at Wimbledon.
Now, still only 30 but struggling after returning from shoulder surgery she had as a last resort, after several years of problems, she’s reached the end of the road financially.
The Blainville, Que. native has reached out to the public to help through a GoFundMe page, started Thursday.
“I’m passionate, I still love my sport. And When I’m ready to start a new chapter, I will. It will happen. And once I’m done, I’ll give back to my sport in some way, to help make a difference. That’s for sure,” Wozniak told tennis.life Thursday night.
“It’s been tough, because I can’t (afford to) travel and compete. I had to stop, think about it all and put it in perspective. What can I do next?”
Wozniak hadn’t heard of GoFundMe. But some of the fans on her social media page suggested she look into it.
She certainly has nothing to lose.
From Roland Garros to tough times in 12 months
A year ago at this time, Wozniak was playing the qualifying at the French Open.
Tennis Canada secured a wild card for her in an exchange with the French federation. She was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by Aleksandra Krunic, who currently is No. 46 in the rankings.
A year later, she’s down No. 336 and has played just three tournaments this season. All were ITF $25,000 tournaments; one each month in February, March and April.
It costs money to travel and play those tournaments, just as it does at the top level. Except – nothing is given for free.
Wozniak won two titles at that $25,000 level in 2017, one in Oklahoma and the other home in Gatineau, Quebec. She dropped just one set in 10 match wins.
But if you can’t get to tournaments, you can’t win. Wozniak’s goal is modest. She wants to get back to No. 100.
“I saw so many girls, with either family issues, or mental health problems, You’re losing first round, six tournaments in a row. They get discouraged and over time, they quit,” she said. “I found it’s too easy to quit when it gets tough. It’s not like I’m stuck for the third year in a row (ranked) under 700,” she said. “I saw progress last year, and it gives you confidence to keep going and reach your ultimate goal. I don’t feel like because im 30, I have to stop. I’ve seen too many girls of my time come back from injuries and do better.”
Fed Cup stalwart
When Wozniak came along, she was standout in a crop of good players who came out of Canada (mostly Quebec) at the time. It was before the creation of the multi-million-dollar national training centre and high-performance program.
Her peers – Stéphanie Dubois, Marie-Eve Pelletier, Valérie Tétreault, Sharon Fichman, found themselves hitting a wall at the No. 100 spot in the rankings although Dubois and Fichman finally leaped over it later in their careers.
But Wozniak was different.
Coached through the juniors and her early career by her father Antoni, who worked an overnight shift and worked with his daughter during the day, she always had a world-class backhand and, with time, a solid all-around game that earned her plenty of victories.
Wozniak finished in the top 100 eight times between 2006 and 2014. Five of those years, she finished in the top 50. She was the first successful female pro from Quebec and for most of that era, until Bouchard came along, the only one who made a true impact on the world scene.
She also represented faithfully in Fed Cup, starting in 2004. That year, just 16, she defeated a 14-year-old Timea Bacsinszky in a dead rubber against Switzerland in Montreal.
In all, Wozniak played 36 ties from 2004 through 2016. She posted a 32-11 record in singles and 8-1 in doubles as Canadian mostly slogged through the clay-court zonals in South America year after year.
Her victory over Vesna Dolonc of Serbia in 2014, while ranked No. 274 and just a few months away from that shoulder surgery, was arguably the most emotional moment in a career that has been marked by her stoic demeanor, win or lose.
She returned in 2016, answering her country’s call in the absence of Genie Bouchard (with a thin pool of world-class alternatives). Her ranking was outside the top 800 and her serve was still very much compromised. But she was not outclassed against several top-100 players.
Comebacks take money
But that was then, and this is now.
The calibre of tennis at the ITF level is higher now. And Wozniak also has to be particularly vigilant in caring for that surgically-repaired shoulder. She found she was having trouble this year lining up other players to warm up with, especially for early morning matches. And with all the new faces, she needs help in scouting out their matches to better compete.
All of that costs.
“Six years ago, it wasn’t that hard. Now, if feels like those girls (ranked) 200-300 can play good tennis at the ITFs. They’re more consistent and more powerful,” she said. “Back then you had a few more inconsistent matches. But now you have to start from the first round.”
Wozniak contacted Tennis Canada to help her in her quest. But she found little solace there.
The association had given her a helping hand when she first returned from her shoulder surgery, no doubt. They managed to get her some wild cards to several events, including the Australian Open and French Open last year.
But now, she said their response was, basically, get your ranking higher and we’ll see what we can do.
In the meantime, while it’s unknown exactly how much assistance they are providing to Rebecca Marino, they have provided a coach to travel with her. Isade Juneau was with Marino several weeks in Turkey when she first returned. And Simon Larose is with Marino in Florida as she prepares to play some $25,000 tournaments this month.
Marino, whose career-high ranking was No. 38, is returning to play after a five-year retirement and is just three years younger than Wozniak,
But that’s the eternal Catch-22 situation in tennis, very much a “what have you done for me lately” sport.
If Wozniak can get her ranking to where she thinks she can, around No. 100, she would gain direct entry into the Grand Slams and assure herself of at least $200,000 a year income. That would be more than enough to pay her own way. She won’t need help.
It’s now that she needs it, not down the road.
As Andrea Petkovic told Tennis.Life in an interview published last week, when you’re at the top, everyone wants to give you everything for free. When you need it, they don’t answer your calls.
Classy, faithful representative
Wozniak joked that it seems there has been so much drama in Canadian tennis lately. From Abanda’s social-media faux pas to all the Fed Cup craziness a few weeks ago in Montreal, to Genie Bouchard’s struggles, to Denis Shapovalov’s rise – it’s all happening.
During her best years, there was none of that.
Wozniak went out and did her thing, faithfully represented her country, and gave her home province a tennis identity on the women’s side that it hadn’t had.
And if there was anything that characterized her during those years, it was determination. She and father Antoni, with Tennis Canada’s help, did what most people didn’t think was possible.
“This is something else, though. I’m in a hole, a different type of situation I’ve never been in. It’s so hard, but I’m determined. Maybe I should be discouraged, or angry. But I’m actually pretty determined. I’m not even sad, even if I feel all alone, with no support,” she said.
“I never asked anyone for help. For then first time in my life I’m asking someone for help.”