Alicia Molik ready for summer
December 09, 2006 12:00am
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ALICIA Molik neither sounds, nor looks, like the world's 164th-ranked player.
It is almost two years since the South Australian roared into the top 10 with a string of scintillating victories over Maria Sharapova, Amelie Mauresmo and Anastasia Myskina. Since then Molik has been to tennis hell and back. Now, however, the past counts for little.
"I'm back from something I didn't think I would be back from," Molik said, referring to inner-ear virus vestibular neuronitis, which wrecked her 2005-6 seasons.
"I've had a great training block over the last 5-6 weeks. I've still got another month to go before Hopman Cup starts and it's been ideal.
"I'm quietly expecting big things from myself. I guess I've slipped under the radar a bit. I think a lot of things will come unexpected to a lot of people over the summer."
Molik won only nine of 25 matches this season, but her most significant gain came off-court with the appointment of Paul Kilderry as coach.
"He makes me work hard, he makes me want to be a better player every day," Molik said.
"For where I am and where I want to be, he's one of the most important things. I wouldn't be playing for any other reason than that of getting back into the top 20, nearing the top 10 again.
"One positive is that I know what it took to get to that position. I knew what it felt like and I think I handled it very well at that level.
"Everyone who I played, whether it was someone at 50 or Sharapova or (Lindsay) Davenport, I felt like that I could put myself in a position to win.
"It's something that I want to get back to. It keeps me going out on court now. It's no fun being out on court on a 37C degree day and that's the reason I do it -- to get back to that No. 8 spot again."
Supremely fit, healthy and happy, Molik has been a Melbourne Park practice court fixture since resuming from a short break.
Kindred spirit Kilderry has drafted in a succession of National High Performance Academy male players to probe Molik's form.
"They've really been pushing me," Molik said.
"The guys hit the ball a lot heavier than the girls and they move incredibly well.
"They certainly make you work hard. Balls that you think might be winners come back with a pretty intense reply and it's really setting me up for that top level."
Molik will test the theory this week at the Australian Open training camp wildcard playoff, which doubles as a lucrative prizemoney tournament. Unlike Mark Philippoussis, her Hopman Cup partner, Molik does not shy away from the prospect of competition against compatriots.
"The more matches the better," she said.
"Any situation I can put myself into, a competitive environment, is what I want to do.
"I've been trying to replicate competitive situations in practice.
"Why not put yourself on the line? Why not play a lot of other girls and earn the wildcard and earn my spot?"
Molik concedes she played "a lot of very average matches" this year. But it was a price Molik was determined to pay.
"I'm glad that I got through this year," she said.
"I played a couple of good matches, I played a lot of very average matches. The bottom line is that I was out there competing, giving my best."