NEW YORK — A funny thing happened when Caroline Wozniacki went for a run in Central Park shortly after the U.S. Open in September.
Onlookers stopped, clapped and raised their thumbs.
“Everyone knows that I’m running,” Wozniacki said Wednesday, about 14 hours after flying into New York from her native Denmark. “I’m probably in the shape of my life.”
Wozniacki, a two-time Olympian and eighth-ranked tennis player in the world, is arguably the most recognizable woman running the New York City Marathon on Sunday (actress Teri Hatcher may have an argument).
“I’m a little bit nervous,” were the 24-year-old’s first words in a news conference four days before the race. “I’m probably not going to get much sleep the night before.”
Wozniacki said she recently panicked thinking about the race while in Asia.
“I had a few dreams that night that I didn’t finish [the marathon],” Wozniacki said, laughing. “I had to be carried through with a wheelchair.”
Wozniacki decided one week before Wimbledon that she wanted to run the 26.2-mile, five-borough race (a few weeks after golfer Rory McIlroy called off their wedding, planned for November). Her team didn’t believe her when she said she could squeeze it in the week after her season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore.
She told her manager to look up charities, received a list that night and decided to run for Team for Kids. Wozniacki said Wednesday she wouldn’t be running Sunday if not for the organization that supports youth fitness programs.
“Everybody’s told me I’m crazy,” said Wozniacki, who called the marathon a bucket list item. “Life is too short to not do things that you would love to do.”
She’s raised more than $50,000.
As for the race, Wozniacki repeated she has a time goal in mind but wouldn’t divulge it. She will have two pacers with her. Her strategy?
“Start off slow,” said Wozniacki, an athlete used to short sprints and heart-rate fluctuations on the court.
Wozniacki hasn’t run more than a half marathon in training, canceling her longest planned training run in Singapore due to tennis activities. Wozniacki reached the semifinals of the WTA Finals, falling to Serena Williams on Saturday.
She flew from Singapore to Copenhagen, stretched her legs in Denmark for a day and then came to New York on Tuesday. She didn’t run before addressing the media Wednesday afternoon but planned a few treadmill runs before Sunday.
“It’s important to get [used to] the time zone, first of all,” Wozniacki said. “I can push through anything.”
Wozniacki said other players — such as Olympic champion Andy Murray — and the WTA are supporting her charity. Williams, who beat Wozniacki in the U.S. Open final Sept. 7, committed to but hadn’t delivered as of Wednesday.
“Now I put [Williams] on the spot,” Wozniacki joked. “Now she doesn’t have a choice [but to donate].”
She joins other tennis players who have run the five-borough marathon, including three retired professionals in 2010.
Former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo completed the race in 3 hours, 40 minutes, 20 seconds. Former French Open champion Yannick Noah did it in 4:01:38, followed by Justin Gimelstob in 4:09:58.
People have started asking Wozniacki if a marathon will become an annual event.
“I need to finish this one first,” she joked. “It’s something I’m going to take with me for years and years to come.”