Tennis Channel Live: Caroline Wozniacki Interview from the 2022 BNP Paribas Open

I announced my retirement just before I played the Australian Open in 2020. In the third round there, I lost in three sets to Ons Jabeur, and everyone in the stadium sang ‘Sweet Caroline.’ It was emotional. It was bittersweet. But at the same time, I knew it was the right thing for me. Caroline Wozniacki, former WTA No. 1, in a recent Vogue magazine feature announcing her return to tennis later this summer

The return of Caroline Wozniacki is a pleasant surprise, but for the sake of truth in advertising, tennis needs to retire the word “retire.” It doesn’t mean what it does to the world at large.

More and more, it seems that stars who have hit a wall and may be deserving of a sabbatical announce, with great fanfare, that they are “retiring”—only to experience buyer’s remorse. We have seen enough un-retirements to show that the process is a charade.

There’s nothing wrong with passion rekindled, or a relatively young star athlete having a change of heart. A seemingly premature exit has dramatic appeal, and significant side benefits in the way of publicity and refreshed income opportunities, including “farewell” tours and exhibitions. But that’s misleading when there’s no real farewell, regardless of intent.

“I think a lot of players (who retire) think they’re not going to come back and play. They’ve had it. Put a bow on the career and leave,” Tennis Channel analyst Pam Shriver says. “Then they realize that it’s an amazing job to have, and if they haven’t reached the ‘no regrets’ phase there isn’t much time left. So they come back.”


Caroline Wozniacki's return will throw a new wrinkle into the tour in August.

Caroline Wozniacki's return will throw a new wrinkle into the tour in August.

In retiring, Wozniacki joined an A-list of former No. 1s, mostly women, who changed their minds about quitting, starting with Margaret Court. Martina Navratilova also went full circle in the revolving door, soon to be followed by Martina Hingis, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters (a serial retirer who pulled the plug on herself three times). It’s natural to wonder who’s next: Ash Barty? To her credit, Serena Williams had the wisdom to leave her status uncertain.

Other champions have been more certain of their decision to leave the game, or chose to go gently into the night of retirement.

“I was 34 and burned out,” current ESPN analyst Chris Evert said during Wimbledon of her own low-key good-bye. “I knew I wasn’t going to come back. I had my first child and that was that.”

Angelique Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam champion and another former No. 1, chose not to make a Hingis or Wozniacki-esque declaration of retirement when she slipped away about a year ago. Given Kerber’s age (35) it’s unlikely that the three-time Grand Slam champion and new mother will return to the tour. One day she’ll just make her retirement official.


Mitigating circumstances, like injury or chronic illness, have traditionally driven early retirement. In fairness, Wozniacki cites her struggle with rheumatoid arthritis as the reason she retired. She got married a month after a final “farewell” exhibition in June 2020, and gave birth to the first of her two children a year later.

Wozniacki has said that her case of RA has become manageable. “The long break seems to have done wonders for my recovery,” she told Vogue. Apparently, she hasn’t achieved that “no regrets” phase, because her full-on comeback begins in a matter of days.

“I never trusted anyone’s claim to retirement,” Shriver told me. “Tennis is a lifetime sport, right? So it’s built for people coming back. Sometimes you need a break so you think, retire. Then you miss it and just plain-old change your mind.”


The bonding agent in the personal histories of many players who un-retire consists, like a good epoxy, of two parts: money and motherhood. The top stars have the resources at a young age to pick up their chips and leave the game when they feel crowded by the demands of the narrow pro life. Many feel the urge to have children. But no amount of wealth can buy satisfaction, and transitioning to an “ordinary” life is not as easy as it may seem. Even the glow of parenthood gradually diminishes.

For wealthy un-retiring players, many of the obstacles facing less successful mothers don’t exist, although an extended break from the tour still has significant financial implications. A former No. 1 can afford to travel with one or more child-care helpers on the team, and she can book enough hotel rooms to guarantee adequate privacy and rest time.

The tour gradually made life somewhat easier for less successful mothers, thanks partly to the 1984 “Terry Holladay Rule,” which allows players back into the main draw of six tournaments—if they return to the tour within a year of delivering a child.


Terry Holladay, the catalyst for the rule, attained a career-high ranking of No. 39 in the year the eponymous rule was introduced. She told me in a recent interview that she had long been told that a medical condition would prevent her from having children. Yet she became pregnant in early 1982 (“I was ecstatic,” she said) and later gave birth to a daughter, Tasha.

Economic necessity forced Halladay back onto the tour. She says that at the time, there was no such thing as (now de rigeur) supervised child-care facilities at tournaments. Players like Paula Smith and Alicia Moulton helped look after Tasha at tournaments, but they had their own matches to worry about.

“I had to go around begging people,” Holladay said. “It was very stressful.”

Holladay traveled with her daughter for five eventful years, until Tasha was ready to enter kindergarten and, Holladay said, lead a more stable life. So Holladay retired. She has no plans to un-retire any time soon.