How my life has changed
Australia’s new queen of the court has arrived as a force and tells ROSS LEWIS she likes the service
Realistic goals: Rising international star Casey Dellacqua, at home in Perth, has targeted a top-30 world ranking as her next goal via the Olympics. Picture: Nic Ellis
The click-clack of the train wheels as they went over the gaps in the track made it impossible for Casey Dellacqua to catch some much-needed sleep.
So, as the carriage headed to some German town with an unpronounceable name as long as a tramline, Dellacqua had plenty of time to think.
Many of the thoughts revolved around the questions of where am I, why am I here and will I have enough time before my next match to wash my smelly shirts?
Welcome to life as a 100-plus ranked player on the world tennis circuit.
Dellacqua recounts the story with a smile on her face.
The rising WA sports star views her apprenticeship on the secondary women’s tour as something of a rite of passage — the hard yards athletes have to endure before the real fun starts.
The 23-year-old is now living the high life.
In the past nine months, Dellacqua has gone from Casey Who to being Australia’s new queen of the court.
And the left-hander doesn’t want to let her country down.
She is approaching the Beijing Olympics, where she will be Australia’s highest-ranked female player, as not just a chance to feel the pride of playing under the Southern Cross but also an opportunity to continue her rise up the ladder.
Little more than 18 months ago, Dellacqua looked like being just another tennis journeywoman wandering the world seeking that big break.
She was ranked at 180 and was spending more time on the challenger circuit than the tour proper.
Life was tough.
“I struggled for a lot of years there, not having much money as I was grinding out an existence in second-level tournaments,” Dellacqua recalls.
“There were many occasions where I was sitting on the trains through the middle of Europe in the middle of the night trying to get to tournaments.
“Then you rock up and suddenly have to take to the court. You are so unprepared.
“Then there were times when you had to miss doing the laundry because you couldn’t read the instructions in another language. Everything was that little bit harder in the day-to-day things.”
How the world has changed for Dellacqua.
In January she “arrived” on the tennis scene by advancing to the round of 16 at the Australian Open.
She later made the third rounds of the French Open and Wimbledon.
Her stocks rose again by appearing in the doubles final at Roland Garros.
With her ranking at 41, Dellacqua now gets around town in a $60,000 V8 Holden, a marked upgrade on the 1991 Commodore she had relied on.
In 2008 she has won $408,000. In her six previous years playing tennis around the globe, she pocketed around $300,000 and much of it was used to pay for travel to events.
“Now all those little things are done for me on the tour,” Dellacqua says. “You take your laundry to the courts and it gets done for you.
“A car comes to the airport to pick you up. That kind of stuff takes the pressure off and you can concentrate on what you have to do.”
With former Australian player Nicole Pratt now acting as coach, Dellacqua has targeted a top-30 ranking as the next goal.
And the Games is the next step in realising that dream.
In Beijing she will play singles and be joined by Athens bronze medallist Alicia Molik for the doubles. Rennae Stubbs and Sam Stosur are the other Australians in the women’s team.
Like Athens four years ago, the 2008 Games will carry ranking points, so wins and losses will have greater significance than just determining the medallists from the also-rans.
“For the tennis players, the Olympics are like the fifth grand slam this year,” Dellacqua says. “I’ll be preparing for it like any other major event but it’ll be a tough tournament because most of the top women will be there. “I’m not going over there for fun and fancy. I’m going there to improve. “Whether I achieve top 30 this year or next, I think it is a realistic goal. “But I’m not going to put any expectation or pressure to have to achieve that as soon as I can. “The thing I’m most proud of is that I have been able to perform consistently at the big events. “I didn’t want to do well at the Australian Open and then fall off the radar. It was important for me to step up to the next level.”