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Old Apr 11th, 2009, 01:51 AM   #5562
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Casey to return just before US Open

From this morning's Age:

Recovering Dellacqua comes to terms with time on sidelines
Linda Pearce

OCCASIONALLY, a fellow rail passenger on the Craigieburn line would approach the familiar-looking young woman, the one with her left arm supported by a sling. "Oh, you're Casey," they would say, before settling in for a chat about tennis, football, anything.

Casey Dellacqua is always happy to talk, as the antithesis of the sporting prima donna addicted to five-star living and courtesy-car privileges. Australia's third-best woman tennis player is staying with a friend in outer-suburban Craigieburn while rehabilitating from a shoulder reconstruction, and was a public transport regular during the weeks she was unable to drive.

Now Dellacqua has rented a car, while navigating a planned return to the circuit just before the US Open starts in August. The downside is that almost a year has been plundered from her career by the injury that first emerged at the 2008 French Open; the up, she says, is that for now there are no more hotel rooms, a break from the incessant travel. "It's nice to actually have a bit of normality and a bit of stability," Dellacqua told The Age. "I've caught the train a fair bit, and caught the tram, and it's taken me a couple of hours to get back to Craigieburn, especially in a sling it's pretty tough, but it's good.

"If I'm in tennis clothes or Target gear or something, people are going to know me a lot more, but otherwise they don't really recognise me too much. If I'm home in Perth, a lot more people know me, but here I'm just like anyone else. It's really nice to have a chat when people come over, but most of the time I'm pretty incognito, so I just feel like a normal person, and that's good, too."

She is, indeed, the natural and accessible everywoman of Australian tennis, charming her way into the national consciousness during her run to the fourth round at Melbourne Park in 2008; a French Open doubles finalist who asked to attend this month's Fed Cup tie in Mildura to support Sam Stosur, Jelena Dokic et al, chop the oranges, help in whatever way she can, stay close. There is, she knows, a danger of remaining idle for so long that she is left behind.

"I've seen the game over the last few years go up levels and levels and levels, and I've seen Sam and Alicia (Molik) who were out of the game for a long time still manage to get back into the top 100, so I'm aware of it," she said. "It's good for me to go to things like the Fed Cup and be involved with tennis and watch the girls play, just so I know where they're at and where I need to be at, so over the next few months with my training and then when I do get back out on court I know what I need to be doing to get back to that level."

It will be another 12 weeks or so before Dellacqua can resume hitting, having finally submitted to a shoulder operation in February after a painful summer that included an honourable first-round loss to Daniela Hantuchova at the Australian Open with a service action remodelled to try to relieve some of the strain.

Dellacqua had told surgeon Greg Hoy beforehand to fix whatever had to be repaired, no matter how major. And, indeed, the damage turned out to be far worse than the MRI scans had indicated, including a labral tear, further muscle damage and a bone spur. "I was a bit surprised I guess, because I wasn't expecting to have that much work done, but I was also kind of relieved, just for the fact that I'd been in a lot of pain and I didn't really know what was going on, so it was nice to know that it was all fixed," she said.

"It's going to be a long recovery, and it's going to be a long year for me, but it's going to get better and I've just got to make sure I get the rehab right and do all that, which I know I will. It was frustrating, because I'd had such a good year and I was on such a roll from Aussie Open, French, Wimbledon, but I've been pretty lucky in my career not to have had too many injuries, and I'm only 24."

Her ranking, though, is already down to 97 from its career peak of 39 last July, so her original new-year goal of a top-32 breakthrough has been replaced by the more modest ambition of a return to simple double figures. Dellacqua will be able to use a protected ranking for eight WTA tournaments and one grand slam when she returns, and knows they are opportunities not to be wasted.

"Obviously, my ranking will probably drop to almost nothing, so even though I can get into the tournaments, I'm going to be starting pretty much from scratch. I'm hoping (to be back for) the US Open, just before, but it will obviously depend on how the rehab goes. At the moment everything's on track, it's feeling great, so hopefully it stays like that."

Time is passing pleasantly enough for someone living on the other side of the continent to be closer to Hoy and physiotherapist Lyn Watson. As well as the rehabilitation, some light jogging and hours on an exercise bike, Dellacqua is reading (currently Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love), going to the movies and watching DVDs. A Carlton fanatic, she has attended training and was a guest of the club in round one, thrilled and heartened to talk shoulders with Chris Judd.

Even so, Dellacqua admits it is "pretty strange" to be away from the court. Yet although there is much that she misses, a temporary period commuting can apparently have its moments, too.

"Until you go through it I don't think you realise how much you do miss it. I miss the girls and I miss being out on tour and I miss playing tennis, but it's nice to not have to travel for a little bit. It's nice to be in Australia and have a bit of consistency and a bit of normality for a change, but when I do get back I'm going to be fresh, that's for sure."
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