tennis siblings

Lauren Smyczek: Growing up with ATP tennis player and brother, Tim

Lauren Smyczek is the newest contributor to Tennis Grandstand, and the younger sister of current ATP pro, Tim Smyczek who is playing at the Australian Open this week. You can follow her on Twitter @LaurenSmyczek where she talks tennis, fashion and life.

By Lauren Smyczek

For years, the Smyczek children, Alec, Tim and I, left the house at five in the morning for my older brothers’ tennis practice before school. I usually ate a donut on the couch while they hustled, but on a good day I would serve a bucket of balls or hit against the wall.

Growing up in Wisconsin, we didn’t take family vacations because most weekends were spent training or road-tripping to various USTA tournaments. Consequently, most of my earliest memories take place on or near a tennis court.

Tim, now 25 and three years my elder, excelled through the junior circuit and currently plays on the ATP Tour, reaching his career-high ranking of 125 just this week. He is in Melbourne for the Australian Open and just defeated Ivo Karlovic to reach the second round – a feat our entire family is very proud of.

So, what was it like growing up with a brother who would go on to play professional tennis on the ATP tour?

The training and travel were grueling, intense and challenging, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Jealousy never entered the picture in our family. If you knew Tim at all or had ever seen him pick up a racquet, you saw how much he loved tennis. Seeing how he literally never wanted to put his racquet down as a kid, you couldn’t help but want him to succeed.

I, however, had a very different experience with the sport from my brother. Early on, I just never felt the love and commitment Tim felt for tennis, so it began to be more of a burden than anything. It wasn’t until my college years that I realized just how much tennis meant to me.

By the time I was in middle school, Tim had already started traveling to tournaments and training with his coach almost every weekend. By that point, it was pretty clear to me that I couldn’t force the tennis thing anymore — my heart was elsewhere.

Around age 11 or 12, I realized that I enjoyed wearing the tennis skirts and cool shoes more than actually competing. Unlike Tim, I didn’t have that fight in me once I stepped on the court. He had won the state championship as a freshman and thus decided to begin playing tournaments rather than participating on the school team. As a result and due to my own work ethic, I put a lot of pressure on myself to excel as well, but this made tennis difficult for me to enjoy at times.

Then one day, I finally realized that I didn’t have to do absolutely everything that my older brothers did — so I ventured into doing theater to explore other activities. My tennis-driven family was not into theater much so their initial failure to understand why I would choose acting and singing over working harder at tennis for a shot at a college scholarship didn’t surprise me. However, being a close-knit family, they quickly supported my decision.

Rather than running away from a sport I had been surrounded with all my life, I decided to keep up with it in high school in order to be a better-rounded student. It may not have been my favorite high school experience but I believe I got through those years of playing and training thanks in part to my wonderful teammates, fantastic coaches, and other diversions in the form of multiple high school musical performances.

When I headed off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a transformation I wasn’t expecting occurred.

Once I left high school, a huge weight had been lifted in regards to tennis. The sport became something I now chose to pursue. Whether it was growing up in a tennis family, or playing alongside someone as successful as my brother, I was always my own worst enemy growing up when I didn’t perform how I wanted to on court. All of a sudden in college, my desire to play was rekindled when the pressures drifted away and I began enjoying it more than I ever anticipated.

I arranged hitting time with friends because I wanted to get better and to have fun with it. For me, finally being able to enjoy playing tennis was all about perspective. I got involved with the club tennis team at UW and loved it so much that I started running it my sophomore year. I had such a great experience my freshman year that I almost felt it a responsibility to give back and try to provide the same caliber of experience for the new players. I met so many wonderful people and have such fond memories from the club team.

Tennis now means more to me than my 12-year-old self could ever comprehend. And here’s the cliché, though very true: it is a healthy pastime I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

From all those years on court as a kid, to my involvement during my early adulthood, I can firmly say that playing tennis has helped form me into the person I am. And what’s more, the sport allows us to create an instant, universal bond with others.

And what can be more enjoyable than stepping on court with your family and friends for a fun hit? Nothing, I say.

Exclusive with Patrik Wozniacki on his famous tennis player sister, Caroline

by Romana Cvitkovic

With the start of the U.S. Open, all eyes have been on current women’s #1 Caroline Wozniacki. Although standing atop of the world rankings, her game has come into question over the past year as she has yet to win a slam. According to her older brother Patrik Wozniacki though, most people forget she is only 21-years-old saying, “Caroline has been in one Grand Slam semifinal and one final. I’m sure it will come. If it’s not the U.S. Open now, it’ll probably come in the next couple of years. If it comes in two years, she will still only be 23 then.”

Like his sister, Patrik is social and pleasant, not afraid to shine that celebrity smile. His charming and optimistic attitude also seems to mirror his sister’s. He is well-qualified to comment on his sister’s success as he played professional soccer for the Danish team Hvidovre IF before taking a full-time position this summer with Lagardere Unlimited, the same management company that works with his famous sister. I had a chance to sit down with him during last month’s Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. where he was just beginning his work with Lagardere, before moving to New York City permanently. He was looking forward to his first project (a Lagardere fashion show for Adidas featuring Caroline during New York City’s famous Fashion Week) and a new move into one of the family’s two new apartments in New York “that Caroline bought.” He is happy to have the whole family in the city as it’s a place where “we can come together” and “do as many things together as possible” during the U.S. Open. (Follow Patrik on Twitter @PatrikWoz)

The two siblings grew up “playing tennis, soccer, a lot of different sports.” The Wozniacki clan is a close-knit one with their father Piotr having been Caroline’s primary coach from childhood up until this summer. When asked where his sister’s work ethic developed from, Patrik commented that she’s been inspired both by their culture and family.

“It’s a different mentality in the western European countries. My dad worked as a small kid and my mom worked hard for the things they had to do, to get money and to get food on the table. So we learned that mentality from when we were two years old: that you have to do hard work to earn things. We knew that from the beginning.” He elaborates on applying that mindset to sports, “There’s no way to do a half-way job if you want to be the best.  You have to give 100%. If you’re doing 80%, that’s not enough to be #1 in the world. If you want to do math, or if you’re a chess player or tennis player, you have to spend a lot of hours in the classroom or on the court to do [so].”

Much like Caroline, Patrik has found success in the sports industry and his soccer career has opened many doors for him, both on- and off-the-field. He hit fame when he landed the role as a contestant on the Danish version of “Dancing with Stars” earlier this year. In reminiscing on his experiences, he smiled, “I had never danced before! But I had a good relationship with my partner and her boyfriend and I had a lot of fun.” Even in Danish, his performance below brings good humor and class.

Likening his performance in the dancing show to soccer, he stated that “I didn’t know I would get as far as I did, especially as a stiff soccer player.” With one-and-a-half hour practices during most of the soccer season, Patrik called soccer “almost lazy compared to tennis” when likening it to his sister’s schedule. “Soccer is not hard training. We do some running, some physical training. But compared to tennis, where you maybe run in the morning, have two hours hitting practice, then go [workout] physically, then have two hours [of practice] in the afternoon and evening, soccer is different.” There is still a stigma with tennis in some parts of the world that it’s not a physically-demanding sport. But with soccer having such an international following, it’s refreshing to hear a professional soccer player pay tribute to the sport with the fuzzy yellow ball. Patrik finalized his statement by saying that “tennis players are much more tough than soccer players are.” Most tennis fans would be inclined to agree with him.

And how was it growing up with Caroline as a sister? Patrik didn’t hold back in his answer. “I was the better one at tennis until I turned 15, and then when she turned 11, she started kicking my ass. So I thought, ‘Ok, I’ll stop playing tennis now.’ It wasn’t fun to lose to my little sister, a girl and four years younger than me! But I knew then that she was a big talent.” Both siblings also have a competitive edge and Patrik said that “we used to compete about everything and we still do… even when we play monopoly or backgammon, you name it, we still compete. In tennis, there is no chance for me anymore [to beat her], but the same in soccer for Caroline.”

He even recalled a particularly humorous story of just how competitive the siblings were against their own parents on court. “When we were young we always competed against our parents on the tennis court in mixed doubles: Caroline and I against our parents. The winner of the challenge won an ice cream” bought by the losing team, Patrik states. “Since there was the goal to beat them … we ate a lot of ice cream when we were young! I don’t know if the parents let us win or we were so good, but that was the fun part of doing it.”

And that kind of attitude is what Caroline has implemented into her own practice sessions. “Even though you practice hard, you have some fun stuff around the tennis. I think that’s one of the things why she’s #1 in the world right now,” Patrik remarked. “We still keep it very focused, but you have to loosen it up sometimes, and have fun.”  He adds, “I think that’s why [the public and media] call her ‘Sunshine’ because she likes to keep things fun.” When asked if Caroline likes the nickname, Patrik replied in the affirmative, “Yes, she does. It fits her really well: hard working but still smiling.”

Patrik also admires the way in which his sister has set her goals professionally and attained them. “From the first time she started hitting, she said ‘I’m doing this because I want to be #1 in the world and win the four Grand Slams.’ It’s always been her goal. She achieved one of her goals, of being #1 in the world, and now she wants to win the four Grand Slams.”

As Caroline has been an inspiration for many young girls, it’s no surprise that she has found an inspiration in one of her best friends on-court as well, Serena Williams. “Caroline is inspired by her,” Patrik replied. “She didn’t play the week before Wimbledon and she got criticized, even though the Williams’ sisters have been doing that for eleven years, I think. She’s trying all the time to get the experience some of the other players have. I think it’s good for her; hearing other different champions how they are preparing for different tournaments, she can try and see if it works for her. It’s the small things that you do that make the difference if you win the Grand Slam or not.” Caroline has handled the pressure well of becoming #1 without a Slam title, and Patrik believes that she will continue being successful “as long as she keeps focus on her game and not try to change too much. There has to be a reason why she’s #1 in the world. She’s the most consistent.”

Patrik went on to elaborate how tennis has become a ‘progressive’ sport and that Caroline’s dream may one day come into fruition. “I was sitting and watching James Blake’s interview last night [where he talked about how] tennis is getting tougher and how people are playing longer in life and progressing over several years to get their goals. You don’t see many youngsters winning Grand Slams. You have [Petra] Kvitova who did an amazing job in Wimbledon but you don’t see that often. You have [Kim] Clijsters, [Francesca] Schiavone, and Li Na winning.  Serena and Venus as well. They are not 22 anymore they are 28, 29 … The young generation has to wait for their time.”

And that includes his sister Caroline. With a charming personality and Hollywood beauty, there is no doubt she will follow in the footsteps of legends and one day win that prized Grand Slam.