Molik leaves no doubt
ALICIA Molik chooses to deal in facts.
The smoke and mirrors approach used by others on the international tennis circuit is not for the deadliest of straight shooters.
If something needs to be said, Molik articulates her thoughts in a fashion that leaves little room for doubt.
Witness her dismay at media coverage of her doubles partner Svetlana Kuznetsova's alleged drug breach, which surfaced during the Australian Open in January.
Molik was so offended at the way Kuznetsova had been treated by a Belgian official, she vehemently made clear her disapproval.
Kuznetsova was quickly exonerated, but Molik had made her stand and was content to stare down the majority.
For Molik, honesty is non-negotiable.
Yet for a bewildering, seemingly interminable patch of a turbulent 2005 season, Molik stumbled into a shadowy world of deception and half-truths.
She was miserable and ill, grappling unsuccessfully with vestibular neuronitis, an inner ear virus, and wanted to hide her struggle. It was a mistake.
"I found myself in that situation this year where you pretend you're feeling great and you're not," she said.
"And I think I hurt myself doing that.
"I wouldn't feel great walking into the locker-room after the many matches that I lost and have my mates ask me how I played.
"My standard answer was to crack a joke and laugh at it. I would make sure everyone would forget about me. That's how I would handle it."
The illness left Molik not only physically sapped, but mentally shattered to the point of depression.
Effervescent, determined and unashamedly ambitious, Molik had been rocked to the core.
The occupation that had delivered an envied lifestyle, striking success and the world No. 8 ranking suddenly became an imposition.
"To walk on to a court with a racquet in my hand was the worst part of any day," she said.
"The rest of it was fine.
"It's difficult to deal with.
"People don't understand because they've seen my form over the summer and having memories from the summer, from Athens – I have such great memories.
"And to step out on the court every day and for me to be a shadow of my former self, it was obvious, very evident, and I'm sure my opponents knew it deep down. It was difficult to go out there and fight every single day."
Deepening Molik's sense of helplessness was the timing of the illness.
There were few hotter players in a six-month stretch from August last year to February 2005.
A Tier I title, an Olympic Games bronze medal in singles play and the Sydney title in January were the crowning glories of an irresistible surge.
"I was very much at the brink of cracking the top five," she said.
"The top 10 was always a goal of mine and I reached it very quickly over the summer.
"I felt it was my time. I was being dealt the right cards. It was going as well as it could have possibly been going.
"And then I got sick and it was probably the worst possible timing. I guess the human body is the human body. Nobody is a machine.
"It breaks down in different ways. For me, my body was saying, `I can't do it any more'.
"Over March-April, I noticed the first symptoms.
"I was incredibly fatigued for a period of two weeks where even carrying my bags to the locker-room, changing my shoes, was an effort.
"In the gym, I was incredibly tired. In Miami in March, I was sleeping a lot. I remember even my roommate making comment. I was so fatigued constantly.
"Also David (Taylor), my coach, obviously noted something was up.
"I'd had a heavy workload for three or four months over the summer. I felt it was the job to deal with fatigue and tiredness.
"That's what sportspeople do. They push the barriers as much as they can and I did that for as long as I could before something gave.
"I remember going to the locker-room one day and the room was spinning.
"I air-swung at a couple of balls and it was fairly obvious something was wrong. It was like a drunk feeling.
"It was three to four months before it slowly subsided with a lot of therapy, exercise and a lot of resting."
But, after months of unsuccessfully battling the illness, Molik snapped back to reality.
The decision to persist with a European campaign when clearly unwell was terminated after another unavailing attempt in Zurich in October.
Faced with the reality of just how insidious the virus had become, Molik decided to take a 12-month sabbatical.
Symbolically, Molik removed anything to do with tennis from view when she returned to her Melbourne home.
"The first thing I did when I got home, before I'd unpacked, before I'd jumped in the shower, before I did anything, I put all my tennis racquets in the back shed," she said.
"I took all my playing gear out of the cupboard and put it in the back shed.
"I feel now that's what I need. I don't want to have to think about that (tennis) immediately. I don't want to have to feel tennis is my priority and rushing to get back.
"I'm a very active person and I do have a lot of energy.
"Since coming home and making this decision, my energy levels have increased."
The comparatively sedate pursuits of golf and bowls mark Molik's athletic boundaries for the moment.
Her health is top of an altered agenda. And there has been no shortage of solutions and help offered.
"I've had a lot of mail over the past six months from fellow sufferers and ways which they've dealt with it," she said.
"So at this point in time, I'm just resting and taking time out. That's what I need in the immediate or short-term.
"But I'm looking at other forms of treatment. It's just that last 2-3 per cent which I'm looking for now.
"I feel like I'm very close, not quite there, but definitely very close to that.
"At this point in time, I need to take a step back."
Molik is in no rush. At 24, time is on her side.
"I'm giving myself a year to get back on tour, and once I'm completely healthy and I do have that eagerness to play, I know that I will enjoy the game again," she said.
"I haven't been able to enjoy much of the last nine months.
"It's probably been the lowest time in my career. It's been very difficult.
"Yeah, my memories of the last 12 months aren't the greatest at all.
"I've never known what depression is but what I can say is that the last six months is the lowest time of my life.
"It was a horrible time. Socialising was difficult. I had no desire to do much, to be around other people.
"Obviously I wasn't feeling healthy. I spent a lot of time sleeping, a lot of time resting, a lot of time being miserable despite trying to be positive.
"That's the most difficult thing, when you're not feeling great, to put on a brave front.
"I'm very good at internalising things and I think I've learnt my lesson from this year because it's not healthy for me to do that at all.
"I definitely learn from experiences, but I learn quicker from my mistakes.
"If I reflect on this year, the one thing I could have done a little better is to be more honest about the way I was feeling.
"But I never like to trouble, or worry, people around me, my friends or my family. But that's what they're there for.
"Sport, more than anything, has its ups and downs.
"There's never an instant cure. It's hard at the best of times and when you're really struggling with something, you really notice the effects.
"It's nice now that I can take a break and not have to think about tennis every day.
"I have confidence in myself and I know that when I'm healthy, I'll be OK."
To that end, Molik's goals have not changed.
"The difference is that I have a year to learn and have experiences," she said.
"I think I will come back a better person and a more knowledgeable person. I think that can only help my career. "I know I have another six or seven years left in me, so for me it will be a positive experience, not so much a negative one."
i miss 'leica but i think she' ll come back a better player in 2007.