Staying on friendly terms with your rivals on the tour is not easy. Caroline Wozniacki tells The Tennis Space that she manages it by sticking to a simple rule: when she meets her fellow players for a coffee away from the courts, they don’t talk about tennis.
The tennis world is a perilous one for maintaining friendships. If you’re also rivals at the top of the sport, then it can be even more difficult. If you then fall out on court in a very public way, then your friendship is in trouble. So when Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska clashed on court in Doha last month, a friendship that had seemed solid was destroyed in less than half an hour.
In their semi-final match in Doha, Radwanska, who has climbed to a career-high number five in the rankings this year, felt that world number one Azarenka was exaggerating an ankle injury. Australian Open champion Azarenka went on to win the match (and later the title) but a clearly angry Radwanska gave a cursory slap of her hand in place of the handshake.
It was an incident that clearly still rankles with Radwanska. While Azarenka said this week that she still considers the Pole a friend, Radwanska was far colder, reiterating her belief that her (former) friend was out of line. “Maybe she won the match or the tournament but she lost a lot of respect because I don’t think that kind of behaviour is a good image for women’s tennis,” Radwanska said in Indian Wells.
Admitting she had been “surprised” and “a little disappointed” at Azarenka’s actions – and that she did not speak to her about it afterwards – Radwanska went on to point out that there was a big difference between her relationship with Azarenka and her friendship with Wozniacki, with whom she can speak in her native Polish.
“It’s not like we’re not going to talk anymore,” she said of Azarenka. “But it’s good to play fair play, off the court and on the court. A lot of things happen on court, a lot of different situations but I think is not the level that you (should be) doing that. This is the highest level. She is number one and has been in the top 10 for many years.
“I am best friends with Caroline (and) because we can separate two lives, tennis and normal life, I think this is the most important thing, to still be friends. Of course we are both on the top, we’re professionals so when you go on the court we both want to win the match but we shake hands, we hug and we’re still friends. When you can separate that, it’s all cool. I think this is the most important thing, also to play fair on court, to have respect for others for sure.”
Wozniacki said she did not want to get involved in the row. “I just (stay) out of it and let them handle it themselves,” she said. But the Dane – one of the most likeable and most liked players on the women’s tour – gave a good insight into how she balances friendship and competition.
“That’s easy for me, actually,” she told The Tennis Space. “Since the juniors it’s been like that. On court, you want to do your best and try to win every point but I think for me it’s important that I have some friends that I can go out for dinner with and just relax and have a good time with so you can recharge your batteries and just give it that little bit extra when you’re on the court.”
The former world number one once said she makes a point of not talking too much tennis when she is with her friends. Is that still the case? “Yeah, that’s true,” she said. “I’ve been brought up that you should be the same way to people as you would like them to be to you. I enjoy having the company and having a good laugh. I think that’s what life’s all about, not just tennis, tennis, tennis all the time, it’s important to enjoy where you are and enjoy what you’re doing.”