Tennis star Caroline Wozniacki comes out ahead in the long run

Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, winner of 23 titles on WTA tour, is one of the top players at BNP Paribas Open

She's the Wizard of Woz, the woman who ran the New York City Marathon — "You don't know what the wall is until you hit it," she said — who posed, tastefully, for the recent Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue . . . who once was ranked No. 1 . . . who only Sunday won the Malaysian Open, her 23rd WTA tournament victory,

Caroline Wozniacki, one of the many stars at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, at age 24 has done almost everything. Other than win a Grand Slam tournament.

That's partly because of the woman Wozniacki considers her best friend on tour, Serena Williams — who, to the delight of officials and to Wozniacki, is returning to the BNP Paribas Open after a 14-year boycott.

Last summer, Wozniacki made it to the final of the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows. Against Williams. "She's special," Wozniacki said.

In her own way so is Wozniacki. She is ranked fifth in the world, and among current female players, only Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova have more championships. In tennis. She's the leader in runs of 26 miles 285 yards, finishing the NYC Marathon in November in 3 hours 26 minutes 33 seconds.

"Everybody was calling me crazy," she said Wednesday during an afternoon of media conferences. "All the experts said I was stupid. It's not normal. I heard it all. I knew at the time what was good for me. It was perfect mentally."

Indeed, the Danish player perhaps needed additional escape from the breakup a year ago with her fiance, Rory McIlroy, the world's No. 1 in golfer.

"It was another goal which I was passionate about," Wozniacki said of the marathon. "And I did it for charity. I also was playing better, because in three-hour matches I was fresher than my opponent."

Wozniacki won in Indian Wells four years ago and has a first-round bye this year. Most of her trophies, she said, are at her parents' home in Denmark. "They use them as vases," she said with a laugh. "But the marathon medal I have framed and on the wall."

The literal one. The psychological and physical wall in the marathon almost framed her. "With two miles left, I wasn't going anywhere. The pacers helped me. They told me think of milkshakes. It shouldn't be that hard. But mentally it was a great barrier to break, because it shows you still have power even when you don't."

After leaving Kuala Lumpur on Sunday for 10-hour flight across the Pacific, Wozniacki on Tuesday practiced for two hours, then attended a Justin Bieber charity concert at La Quinta.

As for her swimsuit photo, she said, "I feel good about the Sports Illustrated picture. Very few people get the opportunity. I feel fortunate to be one of the chosen ones. I thought the pictures came out great."

The tournament provides transportation to entrants, but Wozniacki, staying with friends, runs from their condominium to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

"I feel like I'm playing better than I have in the past," she said, "but I also feel a little older. I spend more time in the gym and less time on court. I have to take care of my body more than when I was younger.

"But at the same time, I love what I do."

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