In the beginning, Aleksandra Wozniak’s dreams seemed impossible.
On Wednesday, they all came true when she was one of four athletes nominated to the 2012 Canadian Olympic team that will head to London this summer.
It came in a rather dramatic manner: Wozniak got the spot when her WTA ranking jumped to No. 56 after wrangling (and losing to) Victoria Azarenka in the third round at at the French Open. It was just enough.
The top 56 singles players qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games. Wozniak had been ranked No. 58 just last week – although country limits and defections due to injury probably would have allowed her to make the Olympic team had her ranking not budged.
Wozniak, 24, has not competed at an Olympics, but she has no shortage of Grand Slam experience. The French Open courts have been good to her: She became the first Canadian in 17 years to make the final 16 at the French Open in 2009.
“It’s going to be a different atmosphere than playing at the big Grand Slams on the WTA tour,” the Montreal native admitted on a conference call Wednesday. “It’s really something amazing, with the best athletes around the world.
“I’m sure it’s going to be very exciting once I’m there … I’m sure that I will be feeling many emotions when I’m there.”
On Wednesday, Tennis Canada also nominated three others to the Olympic team: Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., Daniel Nestor of Toronto, and Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver.
Nestor and Pospisil will play doubles, while Raonic and Wozniak are on tab to play singles.
Wozniak is the daughter of enterprising parents who left Poland for Canada in 1983, at a troubled time in that country’s history, as the reform union Solidarity and the Moscow-led Communist government were wrangling for power.
They left everything behind. Wozniak’s father, Antoni, had been a soccer player in Poland. They faced financial hardship in Canada, with Wozniak’s mother, Jadwiga, at first taking work for 25 cents an hour “in a sock place.”
Her father worked night shifts and coached tennis by day.
“It was very difficult,” she said. “I didn’t know if they could support my dream, my passion for the sport, but it came true.”
She began hitting balls against a wall at 3 and when Dorota, her older sister, was playing tennis, she came along. She caught the bug.
“When I was little, I always dreamed of becoming a professional tennis player,” Wozniak said. “But I never knew if that dream would [come true].”
Wozniak nursed her dream by watching the best players on television, and her vision took on a different dimension when she saw her idol, Monica Seles, win a bronze medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
At 13, competing at the Olympics became a second dream, Wozniak said.
With help from sponsors, and the support of her parents, that has come true. “They played a big role in my life and tennis career,” she said.
Wozniak has made her presence known on the WTA Tour, having risen to No. 21 in 2009, although her progress was halted with a tendinitis injury in her forearm in 2010.
“With the injury, I didn’t know how strong I would come back this year,” she said. “But today, it really came true, that I could really compete at the Olympics.”