Molik on rise from Down Under
By Charles Bricker
April 13 2003
Nineteen years have passed since an Australian woman, Wendy Turnbull of Boca Raton, finished in the top 10.
If Alicia Molik of Adelaide doesn't reach that heady plateau by the end of 2003, she's going to be close. Certainly at some point in her budding career, she's going reach the WTA's elite.
At 5 feet 111/2, she's imposing enough on court, though she is not well known outside Australia. However, had you seen her play at the Nasdaq-100, where she beat Daniela Hantuchova, you would have marked her name.
With her big serving, big strokes and head for tennis, Molik reminds you more than a little of Lindsay Davenport. At age 21 and No. 46 in the rankings, she now needs Davenport's experience and a lot more big wins.
"I'm playing well, but this is not something that has popped up overnight," Molik said last week from Charleston, S.C., where she missed the singles draw but found a doubles partner by the name of Martina Navratilova. "I think the standard I've set for myself has been there the entire year."
In her fifth full year on tour, she finally seems ready to take a giant step forward. Before the Australian Open, she won her first WTA title by defeating Amy Frazier in the final at Perth. Then, after making the round of 16 at Key Biscayne, she lost a week ago in the final at Sarasota to Anastasia Myskina.
In between, there was a scare. She damaged the plantar fascia of her left foot after splitting sets with Iroda Tulyaganova in the opening round at the Australian Open and didn't play again until the Nasdaq.
The injury angered her because she finally had strung together some wins. But it was clear when she arrived in South Florida that it was only a minor setback.
She's on her way next to Budapest, with a 15-3 record, to continue her clay court build-up to the French Open, and she doesn't feel pressure to put women's tennis back in the headlines back home.
"The pressure hasn't been so much," she said. "Anyway, I tend to ignore what other people think."
That sounds a bit like men's No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, with whom she has hit a few times when they were growing up in Adelaide. Turnbull and bigger names Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong were icons to an Aussie girl trying to fight through junior tournaments.
But why no woman has hit top 10 since is a mystery.
"I don't know," Molik said. "It comes in cycles, I guess. Why does it rain some days and not others."
The Delray move
Mark Baron, director of the International Tennis Championships, is moving in on long-dormant territory when his event moves to September next year.
There hasn't been an American tournament immediately following the U.S. Open since 1984, when Jimmy Connors went from the semis at the Open to win at Los Angeles a week later.
Baron is banking on getting a lot of top American players and, if things stay on course for young Yanks James Blake, Robby Ginepri, Mardy Fish and Taylor Dent, he would have his best draw.
He'll also have a lot more time in which to find a title sponsor, at about $750,000 a year, and do a better job of promoting the tournament, which is held at the Delray Beach Tennis Center.
The ITC, which will move to September from its early March spot when the new men's tour calendar is approved, is probably not going to get top Europeans or South Americans.
Honeymoon is over
U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, whose team goes to Europe to face the Slovak Republic Sept. 19-21 for the right to get back into the World Group for 2004, is not cutting his young players any more slack.
"We have a chance to do some real damage this year," he said. "But it's time. It's put up or shut up time basically. It's enough of, `We're young' and enough of, `We're getting experience.' That has to start from me and my expectations of the team.
"I told them [after the loss to Croatia], `It's time for us to perform. You guys are young, but you've all been out there now for a couple of years.' The excuses ... I think we've used all of them up."
Gustavo Kuerten, who charms you with his evolving English, still manages to drive home the point about the length of the schedule: "Nobody wants to live it playing tennis with three surgeries and back and whatever, just feeling so bad. It would be better if we cool down a little bit and play not as long during all the year." ...
The way Lindsay Davenport talks about clay, it's as if she's allergic to it. "California ... there's no clay courts. There wasn't even an option of learning to play on it." Davenport hasn't won a French Open match since 1999 (she missed the French the past two years with injury). Last week, she played a clay event for the first time in three years. ...
Nasdaq ticket sales were down 3-5 percent, and food and beverage sales were down 8-10 percent. ...
If Mark Miles completes his five-year extension as CEO of the ATP, he will have served as chief executive of men's tennis for 16 years. Where's the burnout factor, especially with the kind of flying he does? "I get on a plane in Europe or Asia or South America, take a sleeping pill and wake up in the United States," he explained.
Charles Bricker's tennis column appears Sundays. He can be reached at email@example.com