Molik Moves Into First Major Quarterfinal
Molik Moves Into First Major Quarterfinal
Photo By Ron Angle By Tennis Week
Alicia Molik is turning the centenary celebration of the Australian Open into her own personal party. The engaging Aussie lives in Melbourne and looked right at home at Melbourne Park in posting a 7-5, 7-6(3) Australian Open victory over Venus Williams to advance to her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
It was the ninth straight victory in tournament play for Molik, who started the year winning the Sydney championship after an unbeaten week of singles play at the Hopman Cup exhibition in Perth. Including her Hopman Cup victories, Molik is on a 12-match winning streak. She has not lost a match since suffering a 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 setback to Wimbledon winner Maria Sharapova in the Philadelphia quarterfinals last November.
Serving seven aces and saving six of the seven break points she faced, Molik earned her first career victory over Williams in four meetings.
"I've never been in the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam before. So if that's not a step forward, I don't know, you know, what is. Especially to enter the quarterfinal stage of a Grand Slam beating someone like Venus, I think that speaks volumes of words," Molik said. "But I'm pretty happy with the way I played today. More so than reaching the quarterfinals, I think it's a huge feat that I beat Venus, and beat her the way that I did. I beat her playing my tennis. I didn't wait for her to make mistakes. That's something I can be pretty proud of."
The eighth-seeded Williams has contested nine major finals in her career, but the four-time Grand Slam champion has bowed before the quarterfinals in four of her last five Grand Slam appearances. Still struggling at times to handle the low ball to her forehand, Williams' lack of match play — and her inability to overcome technical issues in practice — have been apparent on court. She still competes hard every time she steps between the lines, but seeing the once invulnerable Venus make the same mistakes in match after match you begin to question her commit off court.
Professional sports is all about adjustments and Venus hasn't been making significant adjustments to her game. Opponents have adapted to her power-based baseline game and Venus has been unwilling or unable to alter her style in response. She still had chances to prevail against Molik, but was only one of seven on break-point conversions.
Rather than playing higher-percentage tennis, Williams often resorts to playing the percentages in her post-match press conferences to rationalize results.
"I just didn't play that well. So normally if I'm playing five percent better, this match is going to be mine," Williams said. "I'll definitely come back in the next tournament, the next event, and I'm definitely going to play better. No doubt. I definitely didn't produce my best tennis today, that's for sure. It was definitely a match I definitely should have won, but I'll be ready next time."
While Venus contemplates future preparation plans, Molik is aiming to become the the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open since Chris O'Neil in 1978, Molik is the first Aussie woman to reach the final eight in Melbourne since 1988 when Anne Minter advanced to the quarterfinals the year the tournament moved to Melbourne.
The 10th-seeded Molik takes on top-seeded Lindsay Davenport in a match that will probably be played the day before Molik celebrates her 24th birthday. Davenport, who remains perhaps the hardest hitter on the WTA Tour, does not suffer from the sporadic forehand issues that periodically plague Venus Williams. Consequently, she's better equipped to handle Molik's best ground stroke, her forehand, and will undoubtedly target Molik's weaker backhand in the baseline rallies.
"I think she's a great player and I think she's getting better and better," said Davenport, who is 3-0 against Molik. "I think she has a lot of pressure here, trying to become this kind of leader for Australian women's tennis. I think she handles everything remarkably well off the court. She had a great year last year and I think she's going to get better and better. I think she has a great serve, and she has a big forehand. I think sometimes you can attack her backhand, but it's gotten a lot better in the last few months. She likes to come in. But, you know, she still has kind of come up the last six months in the rankings. And we'll see. This Slam is the first one she's seeded pretty high and how she does (in a) big match."
An immensely popular player in her homeland, Molik's matches have become festive family reunions for her supporters.
"It's great to have all my friends and family there, and my support crew. It's fantastic. And the crowd were fantastic tonight," Molik said. "They definitely helped me a lot out there. I guess, I was riding on their emotions a little bit as well. And when you walk out from the change of ends and hear everyone screaming and yelling, you know, you hear your name, it gives you a lot of inspiration."
In the space of a 13 months, Molik has made a quantum career leap. She finished the 2003 season ranked No. 35 before producing the best season of her career last year. Molik won three tournament titles, beat reigning Roland Garros champion Anastasia Myskina to claim the bronze medal at the Athens Olympic Games and concluded the season with a career-high ranking of No. 13.
The victory over Venus vaults Molik into the top 10 for the first time in her career. When the new WTA Tour rankings are released next Monday, Molik will be in the top 10 and doesn't sound like a player content with her position as she prepares to play Davenport.
"I haven't beaten Lindsay before, like I hadn't beaten Venus today. It's going to be a good match up," Molik said. "Lindsay plays such a big game. She's a clean hitter of the ball. She's very good at moving the ball around and has a particularly good serve. Again, if I'm on song like I was today, I feel like if I create a few chances, if I create a few opportunities, then I feel like I can definitely, you know, put myself in a position to win. So it's much the same as today. Play my own style of tennis, play my own game, and see what happens."