Comeback done, Molik hungry to take next step
October 28, 2007
NOT quite a full year ago, when her ranking was down in the 160s and her return from vestibular neuronitis still in its uncertain early stages, Alicia Molik sat courtside at Melbourne Park discussing whether a top-50 slot would be too much to expect by the end of 2007. Or, perhaps, too little.
"Aah, I'd like to think that I'd be quite a few spots above top 50," she said at the time, the small crowd that had watched the final of the Australian Open wildcard play-off having just dispersed.
"I'd love to have a 20-something next to my name. That'd be pretty good."
Molik was reminded of that conversation this week in a telephone interview from Linz, Austria, as she reviewed a fluctuating season that will end with her somewhere closer to 50th than the desired 20th, and with a 22-24 singles record.
The highlight was a grand slam doubles title with Mara Santangelo at the French Open; confidence and consistency on the singles court have taken slightly longer to regain.
"I'm a fair way off (top 30) if you look at numbers so, obviously, I didn't make the goal that I set for myself," said Molik, who will return to singles at the Hopman Cup in January. "But I think the last couple of months maybe have shown that even though the number isn't close, I feel like my tennis is very close."
Rankings, of course, tell only part of the story, and Molik's first full post-virus year has been a mix of good results, doubles excellence, a few disappointing losses to lesser players and encouraging — if not quite winning — efforts against the likes of the Williams sisters.
Most recently, after reaching consecutive quarter-finals in China and Japan, Molik was forced to qualify for her past three tournaments, and succeeded twice — in Moscow, where she pushed eventual champion Elena Dementieva to three sets in the first round — and then Linz, where she beat Pole Agnieszka Radwanska before falling 6-4, 6-4 to sixth seed Patty Schnyder.
The qualifying rounds are a long way from where she once was, but the former world No. 8 is as realistic as she is popular, and not the type to let pride stand in her way. "It's absolutely no problem whatsoever," she said, explaining that the limited facilities at the European indoor tournaments place a premium on any kind of court-time.
"The way I view it is that I'm at an advantage, because a lot of the girls don't even get time on centre court or the match courts.
"Definitely it's tougher; there's three matches you need to win before you make the main draw, but that's life. I've been through it before, so it's no different now. I'm certainly not beyond it. But having a heap of matches behind you does mean what you do and plan to do on break points and deuce points and tight points becomes a little bit more natural than if you've played maybe one match a week and then had to wait another whole week until you play again."
Perhaps what Molik has lacked is the one big win, or the run to a tournament final, that could fast-track what she nevertheless insists is no longer a "comeback".
She has, after all, been on tour again for a year-and-a-half. "I'm back playing tennis, you know, I'm not coming back to anything … I'm back trying to be the best I can be again.
"I had a couple of rough losses but, hey, that's life. I've played this game long enough, and I've been a professional long enough that I know how to get through things and how to get the best out of myself, and how to move on. I think I'm good at moving on."
Molik's next destination, she hopes, will be Madrid with Santangelo for the year-end WTA doubles championship, before a short break.
If the need to contest the wildcard play-off is behind the Melbourne-based 26-year-old, a pre-season priority will again be to augment her off-court work with enough practice matches to keep a "match-focused" mind going into a summer that will start in partnership with Peter Luczak at Perth's Burswood Dome.
"Over the break, I'll evaluate the things that I really need to improve and work on," Molik said.
"Going into the summer, you're at an added advantage if you have played a lot of matches, so it's certainly something that I'll look to do, so that I can go into the summer and the Hopman Cup running, instead of taking a week or two to warm-up."