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When love only means zero

 Caroline Wozniacki at the 2012 Sony Ericcson Open. Photograph by Charlie Cowins

Caroline Wozniacki at the 2012 Sony Ericcson Open. Photograph by Charlie Cowins

You have to feel for Caroline Wozniacki and not just because she lost in the first round of the French Open, although that’s certainly tough.

But she no doubt lost, because she was dumped recently by her fiancé Rory McElroy – over the phone no less, he having gone on to win some important golf tournament. (I know: The phrase “important golf tournament” is certainly oxymoronic.)

The axiom is that when the going gets tough, the tough transcend, and that has certainly always been my attitude. When faced with any crisis, tragedy or disappointment, I always redouble my efforts professionally, as have many athletes ranging from McElroy to tennis great Martina Navratilova. Indeed, the idea of the team “winning one for the Gipper” and Pagliacci laughing on the outside for an audience even as he cries on the inside are such time-worn traditions in our culture that they’ve become clichés.

But there are times when the heart can’t transcend, because it’s so heavy or so broken. I remember when Nole got trounced by Rafa in the finals in Monte Carlo after learning that his grandfather had died. As Nole wept, Rafa put an arm around him. There seems little else to do when words and deeds fail.

Still, we root for the fairy tale, don’t we? Not just the “Rudy” moment in which someone triumphs over adversity but the Cinderella ending in which a nice young woman who’s had her share of tennis hard knocks recently gets her golfing prince.

It wasn’t to be. And even if it had been, there’s no guarantee it would’ve lasted in the high-stakes world of competitive sports. In my new novel “Water Music,” what threatens to unravel the relationships among my quartet of gay athletes is the drive of each to be No. 1.

As Chris Evert told The New York Times about her breakup with Jimmy Connors after a fairy-tale engagement: “For me, I had to be ‘married’ to my tennis in terms of doing whatever it took to be the best I could be. Trust me, Jimmy and I traveled around the world for each other for two and a half years, and then it hit both of us at the same time. It just wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t be there for him. He couldn’t be there for me. The emotions were up and down. The mental focus suffered, and traveling around the world for each other was too much.”

I can understand that completely. The reason I never married or had kids is that I couldn’t stand anything getting in the way of my writing. (Even today as an editor, I still put my writing first. In that, I’m a lot like Dee Dee Norquist, swimmer Dylan Roqué’s artist-aunt in “Water Music,” although by the time we meet her, she’s become more giving.)

If I were Caro – as Wozniacki is affectionately known on the tour – I would take time to throw myself a brief pity party. Then I’d figure out what’s wrong with my game and get back on the court and beat the hell out of my opponents.

Playing well is the best revenge.