Woz­ni­acki up­beat ahead of Aussie Open de­fence

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - SPORT -

MEL­BOURNE: An up­beat Caro­line Woz­ni­acki said she was rel­ish­ing re­turn­ing to the Aus­tralian Open as de­fend­ing cham­pion Sun­day and dis­missed con­cerns health prob­lems were af­fect­ing her game.

The Dane achieved a ca­reer mile­stone at Mel­bourne Park to claim her maiden Grand Slam last year, but also re­vealed she was suf­fer­ing the de­bil­i­tat­ing au­toim­mune con­di­tion rheuma­toid arthri­tis.

Woz­ni­acki, 28, in­sisted there was no ex­tra pres­sure re­turn­ing Down Un­der as the ti­tle holder, say­ing she was treat­ing her up­com­ing cam­paign as “a nice, fun chal­lenge”.

“I felt com­fort­able straight­away when I hit balls on that court. It was just a good feel­ing,” she said of her re­turn to Rod Laver Arena, the scene of last year’s three set tri­umph over world num­ber one Si­mona Halep.

“Then, you see your pho­tos all over the place, which is cool. So it’s def­i­nitely great to be back.”

Woz­ni­acki, seeded third at this year’s tour­na­ment, said she was care­fully man­ag­ing her arthri­tis, a con­di­tion which some­times leaves her so ex­hausted she can barely move her arms.

“For me, it’s just all the time mak­ing sure I get good mas­sag­ing, good treat­ments, ice baths, stretch­ing, do ev­ery­thing even more thor­oughly than maybe in the past,” she said.

She added that she had not changed her play­ing style and had learned to recog­nise symp­toms of arthri­tis to avoid flare-ups.

“I think es­pe­cially as an ath­lete, you’re even more aware of it. You know your body even bet­ter,” she said.

“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 that (arthri­tis).”

She said the pre-sea­son rou­tine was un­changed, aside from some ex­tra gym work to keep in shape be­fore train­ing be­gan in earnest.

Af­ter such a roller­coaster 2018, Woz­ni­acki said she needed “to leave the rac­quet be­hind for a while” dur­ing the off-sea­son, recharg­ing her bat­ter­ies in the Mal­dives and the Vir­gin Is­lands.

The avid Liver­pool fan also vis­ited the less sunny climes of An­field to see her beloved team in ac­tion, in­dulging in the lo­cal fare af­ter cheer­ing Jur­gen Klopp’s men on to vic­tory.

“They have great burg­ers right out­side. There’s a huge line out­side one of them... they had fries, all sorts of stuff,” she said.

“I was like, ‘we have to try it while we’re here’. It was re­ally, re­ally good.” - AFP

Den­mark’s Caro­line Woz­ni­acki hits a shot dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion ahead of the Aus­tralian Open ten­nis tour­na­ment in Mel­bourne on Jan­uary 13, 2019. - AFP photo

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