Montreal·Video

Aleksandra Wozniak takes her place among the Rogers Cup legends

On Tuesday, at the Rogers Cup, Wozniak will be honoured by Tennis Canada and tournament organizers as they hold a ceremony on centre court to officially induct her into their hall of fame. 

Wozniak reached a career high ranking of 21 in the world before shoulder injuries derailed her rise in tennis

Aleksandra Wozniak will be inducted into the Rogers Cup hall of fame this week in Montreal. (Louis-Marie Philidor/CBC)

Aleksandra Wozniak played matches on many of tennis' most revered surfaces, such as on grass at Wimbledon's centre court and on clay in France at Roland-Garros.

But nothing meant quite as much to her as playing in the stadium of Montreal's Jarry Park — where she will be inducted into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame this week.  

"I was a little girl, my parents brought me to this tournament and when I saw the professionals playing on centre court, it was my dream," Wozniak says. 

Wozniak grew up in Blainville, Que., a suburb north of Montreal, and recalls coming to watch her idol Monica Seles play at the Rogers Cup. 

Years later, in 2012, Wozniak walked in the footsteps of her idol. 

That year, on the court where she cheered for Seles, she had the local crowd behind her as she powered her way into the quarterfinals of the same tournament she used to watch as a young girl.

Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak retired from competitive tennis at age 31 after struggling with injuries. (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images/File)

"It was a dream come true when I reached the quarterfinals and the crowd support, the energy they gave me was a really special moment," Wozniak says.

Of everything she did in her career — including becoming the first Quebecer to win a WTA tournament and representing Canada at the 2012 Olympics in London — her run at the 2012 Rogers Cup is what she cherishes most.

A shoulder injury and a tough lesson learned

Wozniak says she it might have been her own youthful ambition that ended up limiting her career. 

In 2009, she reached a career high ranking of 21 in the world. However, at the same time, she noticed a pain developing in her shoulder. She was sidelined with an injury and while she came back and played for almost another decade she was never able to regain the same form.

"Looking back I wish I would have taken a bit more time to recover," she says. "We always want to play play play, and when we're young, we're excited and eager."

Aleksandra Wozniak's parents brought her to see the Rogers Cup when she was a kid. Now she is being inducted into the tournament's hall of fame. 2:33

Today another young Canadian — Bianca Andreescu — is in a similar spot. After a meteoric rise and winning at Indian Wells she developed a shoulder injury which has since limited her play.

Wozniak says her advice is to her is to listen to her body and take the proper time to fully recover from her injury. 

"You gotta listen to your body. Take the time and come back when it's ready — and don't push through it because that's when you it's going to take longer," Wozniak says. 

Aleksandra Wozniak advises athletes to take the time to heal and not push their bodies too hard. (Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

Lack of support and injures end Wozniak's career

As injuries continued to plague Wozniak, she also started to struggle to earn enough money to keep her career afloat.

In 2018 she reached out on social media, starting a GoFundMe campaign to try to earn $50,000 so she could relaunch her career following a knee injury. 

The campaign fell short and while Tennis Canada could have stepped in to help her financially — it didn't. 

It appeared like the organization's focus had moved away from Wozniak — who was over the age of 30 — and onto the next generation of young players. She announced her retirement in December 2018. 

Wozniak had always answered the call when she was asked to play for Canada in the Fed Cup throughout her career, and when asked if, at the time, she felt betrayed, she elected to take the high road. 

"There is always ups and downs to everything. I felt like for sure it was tough at some point. But I'm so thankful [for the support] I got back then," she says.

Wozniak says that Tennis Canada's focus on the development of young players is what has led to such a volume of talent emerging on the international level.  

"There's so many more players representing [Canada] on the women's and men's side and I feel like the players are really lucky to get the support they get right now and I think they should make the most of it," Wozniak says. 

Into the Rogers Cup Hall of Fame

Wozniak said she expects Tuesday to be emotional for her. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

On Tuesday, at the Rogers Cup, Wozniak will be honoured by Tennis Canada and tournament organizers as they hold a ceremony on centre court to officially induct her into their Hall of Fame. 

Wozniak says it's going to be emotional to walk back onto that surface one more time. 

"Looking back you've done so many sacrifices, being away from your family. You haven't had a normal life. Tennis was your whole life," Wozniak says.

"I'm really happy I had the chance to become a professional tennis player and have lived through it. Now I'm being honoured for the accomplishments I did for Quebec and Canada. So it's really special."

While Wozniak's days as a player are over now, her presence in the sport of tennis continues.

She visits local schools and speaks to kids about maintaining an active lifestyle and introduces children between the ages of five and 12 to her sport. 

She's also started the process to earn her coaching certification so one day she can pass on her dream of playing centre court in Jarry Park to a young player.

After all, there might be a little girl who will be watching her idol play this week who will need her support.     

About the Author

Douglas Gelevan, a national award-winning sports journalist, has been a member of the CBC team since 2010. He is currently the sports journalist for CBC News Montreal.

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