After contributing to Women’s Tennis Blog with his Kaia Kanepi interview, David Fearnhead, journalist and author of novel Bailey of the Saints, wrote an exclusive article discussing the curse of the sporting romance on the example of former No.1 and current No.9 Caroline Wozniacki, who is dating golfer Rory McIlroy.
Sports people by their very nature are obsessives. It’s what gives them their edge. It’s what drives them on where others would quit. It’s the glue which binds their personality and profession together. We’ve all heard professional athletes talk of “being in the zone”. It’s this seeking of perfection which delivers their euphoria.
The danger with all obsession fuelled careers though, is that one day the focus of that obsession might change. There’s the old favourites of gambling, drugs, drink, and sex addiction, which have seen the downfall of many a stellar career. However, the recent troubles of Wozniacki and her beau have led me to suspect that a plain old four-letter word may also be terminable disease for a professional athlete. Could love be a career killer on tour?
The importance of love in the lives of professional sports is ripe for any novelist. Indeed in my debut novel, Bailey of the Saints, I explored such a theme. That was football, but it’s the same in all sports, certainly it’s true on the WTA Tour. The life of a player off court can and does affect their performance on it.
Now I’m not myopic enough to say that Wozniacki troubles began when her romance with Rory McIlroy started, but I wouldn’t be the first to spot a correlation between a flourishing romance and a faltering career. One only has to look at Ana Ivanovic, whose on-off and on-again relationship with Australian golfer Adam Scott did little for either of their career wins.
In the 21st century social media has overtaken the gossip columns of the newspapers. Now anyone with a Twitter account has been able to follow the Wozniacki/McIlroy romance at close quarters. Just as anyone who follows sport will tell you that the Dane has slipped from the pinnacle of her sport to a ninth seed despatch from the French Open. McIlroy meanwhile has missed the cut in three recent tournaments.
There is an ill-advised belief of many an athlete that only another athlete can understand the stresses and strains of their lifestyle. Nowhere is this belief stronger than with female professional athletes. It’s a line I’ve heard trotted out during many an interview. Even though the facts don’t back it up. An understanding of professional sports is helpful, but being a fellow professional should never be a prerequisite to a healthy relationship.
Women’s magazines will tell you two A-type personalities will never make a successful union. They’ll point to countless failed celebrity marriages. They’ll also highlight those who were successful when the partner’s career took a back seat in order for the other to reach their highs. How blessed Roger Federer is to have someone like Mirka in his corner. In the women’s game we’ve seen quite a few match-ups which haven’t quite made it. Flavia Pennetta found out in the cruelest way of all the problem of dating a professional sportsman. We’ve also seen a few player/coach combos which look strained at best. Jiang Shan seems not to mind being the butt of wife Li Na’s jokes, but most husband/coaches suffer far worse.
The cross sport romance is not always a disaster. Kim Clijsters relationship with Lleyton Hewitt may only have spawned her Aussie Kim moniker, but with basketballer Brian Lynch she appears to have found stability and happiness. Maria Sharapova also found her husband in a B’Baller. Though in both these cases it’s worth noting that globally it was Clijsters and Sharapova who held top billing. Few outside the states could even name or identify their respective husbands.
So what of Caroline Wozniacki, is the romance with Rory costing her a shot at a major? Probably not. A lack of attack in her game, the quality of women’s tennis in general, and not having a big weapon are all more telling in her recent struggles. Is she happy? Well, when all’s said and done she appears so, and that is perhaps a little more important in the grand scheme of things than hitting a fluffy yellow ball over a net. We all love the game but perhaps it’s healthier to love someone more. So I for one hope to see more Twitter pics of their happy union and less of the front page tabloid meltdowns women’s tennis has been blighted by.