Molik prepares to qualify for home Grand Slam
December 12, 2006
THE new season cannot start soon enough for Alicia Molik. In fact it is three more sleeps.
She is anxious because she's been working up a sweat with six weeks of solid training, is in the best shape she's been for two years and wants a road test. "I really can't wait for those hot summer nights," Molik said. And it all starts on Friday at the Australian Open wild-card play-off tournament.
After reaching a career-high No.8 on the WTA world rankings in February 2005, which followed several breakthrough tournament wins and a quarter-final spot at the Australian Open, Molik's year spiralled downwards when an inner-ear infection worsened to the point where it destroyed her sense of balance and disrupted her depth of vision. It could have ended her career.
The South Australian, who now calls Melbourne home, missed the French Open and Wimbledon in 2005 and the 2006 Australian Open but intends being back for 2007.
But since her ranking has slipped to 163, Molik cannot rely on an automatic spot in the 128-strong field. And rather than wait to be given a wild-card, Molik will play the qualifying tournament.
"It's an opportunity for more match practice and under a pressure situation," Molik said. "It's probably no surprise that people would expect me to win it. I expect to win it myself. But I don't care what type of competition it is because you have to put yourself on the line and put yourself under pressure. That's a valuable lesson in itself."
Molik has learned a few of those since struggling to overcome her illness and return to the tour. She did that last May in Japan and played another 15 tournaments. But with a 9-16 win-loss record, it was by no means a successful comeback.
"Obviously I couldn't expect too much too soon but the frustration of not quite playing at that level as consistently as I used to was the hardest part," Molik said. "I'd show flashes here and there but as soon as a flash came I'd expect so much of myself.
"The positives are there now that I can. And I want to get back to where I was."
In August 2004 she beat Anastasia Myskina to win Olympic bronze in Athens. She went on to win tournaments in Stockholm, Zurich and Luxembourg, leaving seeded players in her wake, including Maria Sharapova. That got her into the top 20 for the first time.
She then beat Sam Stosur in the 2005 Sydney International final to become the first Australian champion since 1980.
She beat Venus Williams in the fourth round of the Australian Open to become the first local to reach the quarter-finals in Melbourne since 1988. That put her into the top 10. Reaching the semi-finals in Antwerp in February put her at No.8. But then she got sick.
"Basically my body ran on adrenalin for more than six months.
"Something had to give but it's hard to know when to stop when you're playing so well."
She has no fears the illness will return.
"From what I've learnt about it myself, read about it, and spoken with other people who've had it, I feel very comfortable I'm all done with it."
Molik will take more time off to rest and get home for further training "time outs" in her schedule.
After this weekend's qualifying tournament Molik will join Mark Philippoussis to play in the Hopman Cup in Perth starting on December 30, before the Sydney International (January 7) and the Australian Open (January 15).