On Indian Wells mornings before the Coachella Desert sun gets too hot, 2011 champion Caroline Wozniacki straps on her running shoes and hits the pavement, off for a jog that not only clears her mind but also gets her on site to the BNP Paribas Open.
It’s the kind of morning routine she can’t find anywhere else on tour, and one she feels like helps bring out the best in her tennis.
“You know, the air is so fresh in the morning,” the former world No. 1 told reporters Sunday. “You look around and you have like lemon trees, orange trees, and it's just so nice. Sometimes I stop and I grab a lemon or an orange.”
The player who has been called “Sunshine” in the past has continued to try and brighten her results having dropped to No. 11 in the world. This tournament remains a shining time of the year for her: She was a finalist here a year ago.
Since then she has added Michael Mortensen as a coach and re-dedicated herself to her fitness (hence the runs). Late last week she met her dad, Piotr, on site after a run, hitting the practice courts thereafter.
“I just feel so relaxed. It's just nice to be here,” she explains.
Tuesday she faces the only other former BNP Paribas Open champion remaining in the draw in a fourth-round tussle when she and Jelena Jankovic do battle, the 2011 winner (Caroline) taking on the 2010 champ (Jelena) in what will be their 10th career meeting.
How does Caro prepare?
“Normally I like to go and watch a few games of my opponent’s play or watch on TV when they are playing,” she says. “My dad and Michael will look at clips on the Internet and then give me some pointers that way.”
Wozniacki has won the last five encounters with Jankovic after losing the first four. Her thinking game is grounded in her track-everything-down mentality, much the same as the Serbian.
In a lot of ways, they are the players that the game has moved past, with new power-strikers breaking ground in women’s tennis that now control the top of the game.
Yet it is tournaments like this one that Wozniacki doubles down and seemingly reinvigorated. Before her title in 2011 she was a finalist in 2010 (losing to Jankovic) and again last year (Maria Sharapova).
What is it about the desert?
“You know, it's just great. Everyone loves coming back here, and that's why you see everyone playing and loving it,” said the 23-year-old Dane. “They play doubles, as well, because they just love being here because it's simple.”
There is no doubles for Caroline, but her off-court partner – fiancé Rory McIlroy, the professional golfer – arrived Sunday night in Indian Wells, an occurrence that brought a smile to Wozniacki’s face.
What might would bring an even bigger smile to Caroline is hoisting another trophy at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, having won her last tournament in Luxembourg in October.
Perhaps it’s those morning runs that are her secret to success.
“The morning runs happen often here,” she says, smiling again. “From the house we're staying in, it's a perfect route for me to just run for like 35, 40 minutes. So it's perfect. It just clears my head.”