Alicia in wonderland
January 10, 2005
Kids scrambled, pressed themselves against the meshed fence and flung black textas at her tanned hands. "Alicia, Alicia," they pleaded as they pushed programs and oversized fluoro tennis balls forward.
"Yeah, no problem," she said breezily as she scribbled her name and posed for photos.
Molik is clearly cool with the children and the fans at the Medibank International. As she practised yesterday for about an hour, they squeezed around the court excitedly just to catch a glimpse of the hottest Australian female player in decades. Everything has been dreamy for the 23-year-old recently. Suddenly, Molik is ranked 12th in the world. Some are even saying she has a chance of becoming the first Australian female since Chris O'Neil in 1978 to win the Australian Open. How on earth did that happen?
"There's no one thing she did, she didn't have one special juice," says her coach, David Taylor.
Finally an Australian woman is starting to swing it with the best in the world and Molik has injected a spark of hope into the tennis community.
She belted her way to three singles titles last year, not to mention bagging a bronze at the Athens Olympics, and Molik has now won 26 of her past 30 matches. It has been a very happy new year for Molik, who notched up three consecutive wins at the Hopman Cup in Perth last week.
"Three matches, three wins, it's a good way to start the year, she's obviously very confident from last year and that's carried over," Taylor says. "Confidence and doing it all - not just having isolated matches where she has played well against a better player but continually doing it - [has lifted her ranking]. The biggest thing is she only lost three matches all year to anyone ranked below her and that's quite an amazing statistic. People always saw her as someone who could beat good players but often didn't have consistency."
The blonde South Australian now has players like world No.1 Lindsay Davenport and No.3 Anastasia Myskina rating her ability highly. Davenport is a self-confessed "big fan" of Molik's and said that her best chance to win a slam could be the Australian Open.
"She has a huge forehand and serve and she also has a great attitude and outlook about the sport," Davenport has said.
The 182-centimetre Molik is an all-round athlete - apparently she also has a nice kick of the footy - but the key to her tennis is her powerful serve and strong groundstrokes.
"I am really impressed with her," said Myskina. "I think she is playing really well. [Her strength is] her serve, you can see that. She's serving 12 aces per match and I'm doing 12 double faults per match. It's a pretty big difference."
Last year Molik defeated a number of top 25 players, including Amelie Mauresmo, Ai Sugiyama, Nadia Petrova, Elena Dementieva and Myskina. With the praise starting to flow, Taylor said he was not surprised people outside Australia are noticing Molik.
"It's not surprising her peers are saying those things because she's beaten a lot of them ... she hasn't beaten Lindsay, but they are nice things," Taylor said. "She just takes it one step at a time, and one improvement at a time. She doesn't think her game's complete yet. I think if she maintains that attitude that's the best thing she can do."
Molik loped in her carefree way around the court yesterday. In the past she has been perceived as too placid - a very unfair tag, according to her coach.
"I think she's perceived by the Australian public, especially in the last few years, as maybe someone too laid-back and too relaxed and that's actually not really the way she approaches her tennis," Taylor said. "She has a burning desire to be a much better player but that doesn't come across always. She always got unfairly tagged as an underachiever. People that do know her well know she has a fierce desire to be a better player, she's very competitive in anything she does. She's also a very affable person. Unfortunately she used to be tagged as someone who didn't really believe she was a good player."
Taylor and Molik have been working together for about four years, and the fruits of the hard work are now apparent. "She's changed a lot of things in her game, it's just taken a while for her to become a complete player," the coach said. "She had a lot of holes in her game before and those holes have been pretty much patched up. Her goal is always to be more of a complete player than she is now."
But the big question is: can she win a slam? In particular, the Australian Open? "To win a grand slam when you haven't been past the fourth round is probably a very ambitious goal, but she can have a real impact down in Melbourne," Taylor said.
Molik's first opponent in Sydney this week is Italy's Francesca Schiavone, whom she beat last October. They play tomorrow.