Join Date: Jun 2006
Location: Sydney, Australia
Coach hails Dellacqua's stunning rise: Article
Fed Cup captain David Taylor has hailed Casey Dellacqua as a great success story of Australian sport following her remarkable rise from tennis obscurity to grand slam contender.
Little more than a year after "really treading water" on the women's tour, slugging it out in low-tier events in far-flung places like Kalgoorlie and Gifu in Japan, Dellacqua cracked the world's top 50 for the first time.
The 23-year-old West Australian soared 10 places to No.41 after upsetting 2006 Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli to reach the French Open third round - as well as reaching her first grand slam doubles final in Paris with Italian partner Francesca Schiavone.
Dellacqua's climb follows her Cinderella run to the Australian Open fourth round, when the plucky southpaw ousted former champion Amelie Mauresmo before going down swinging against world No.3 Jelena Jankovic.
Chuffed at her rapid development, Taylor now believes Dellacqua can not only serve as his new Fed Cup linchpin but also join teammates Alicia Molik and Samantha Stosur as the only local women in the past two decades to be seeded at the Australian Open.
Taylor, whose list of former pupils include newly-crowned French Open champion and world No.1 Ana Ivanovic and five-times grand slam winner Martina Hingis as well as Molik, marvelled at how far Dellacqua had come in the past 12 months.
He admitted the formerly overweight AIS scholarship holder was effectively handed a "shape up or ship out" ultimatum when she wasn't living up to her considerable potential before turning her career around through sheer hard work.
"Ah, hard-living, Holden-driving Casey that all of Australia seems to love. Now that's the biggest progression I've ever seen," Taylor said.
"There was a girl stuck for three years between 150 and 200 (in the rankings) and really treading water and the institute came along and they gave us an ultimatum.
"She was on three months' trial and every three months she would have to reach another goal or she would lose our support.
"She kept meeting those goals and exceeded them and, yeah, took everything on board and now look.
"Obviously she is the biggest success of our new AIS/TA Pro Tour program since it started 18 months ago."
Taylor coached Molik from her formative years to the heady days of being an Australian Open quarter-finalist in 2005.
But while Molik took six years to steadily climb the rankings to a career-best No.8 three years ago, Dellacqua halved her ranking last year alone and has repeated the feat in the opening six months of 2008.
"So why? What are the big changes?" Taylor said.
"A change of attitude towards training, a change of attitude towards everything off the tennis court and just a realisation that she's got a great opportunity and she took advantage of it.
"They're the big changes and that's why she's been able to achieve her potential."
Dellacqua faltered in the opening round in her first seven grand slam tournaments before finally posting her maiden win at a major at last year's US Open.
She hasn't looked back and Taylor is convinced the left-hander will be seeded at Melbourne Park next January, just as Molik was in 2005 and Stosur in 2007 before illness cruelly struck down the two Australian stars at the prime of their careers.
"If Casey continues to apply herself they way she has these past 12 months, I think a realistic goal would be to attain a top-32 seeding at the next Australian Open," Taylor said.
"It's also exciting from a Fed cup and Olympics perspective.
"The team is going through a transitional period with (Nicole) Pratt retiring and Alicia continuing to struggle with injuries, so to get a new top-50 player who is also capable in doubles is a significant gain to the team."
Buoyed by her unexpected successes, Dellacqua herself is aiming even higher.
"If you had asked me a year ago how far off I was from the top players such as Ivanovic, I would have said miles off. But I don't feel like that now." she wrote in her new column for the Melbourne Age newspaper.
"I've still got a lot of work to put in mentally and physically to get there, but I definitely feel like I'm heading in the right direction.
"I think it's realistic to aim at reaching that level. My mindset has changed and now I feel that if do the hard work, then I can get there."