Can Alicia Molik bounce back?
Can Alicia Molik recover from the heartbreak of her first-round Australian Open defeat? The former world number eight staged a remarkable comeback from injury in 2009, but folded spectacularly under the unforgiving bright lights of centre court in Melbourne.
Leading 5-2 in the second set against Frenchwoman Julie Coin, after winning the first set 6-3, Molik dropped the next four games, went down in the tiebreak and lost the deciding set 3-6.
The 28-year-old veteran imploded like a 15-year-old rookie.
She celebrates her 29th birthday on Wednesday and must be wondering if she can maintain the effort required to go further in grand slam events.
There was much to admire about Molik’s performances in 2009.
Instead of seeking a wildcard entry to bigger tournaments she played the second-tier Pro Tour, working her way steadily from Darwin to Mount Gambier, Port Pirie, Esperance and Kalgoorlie.
Her only nemesis was rising New Zealand star Sacha Jones, who missed the ASB Classic in Auckland and the Australian Open with a stomach injury.
Molik was a popular personality in regional Australia, acted gracefully and breathed new life into the Pro Tour.
At Mount Gambier she drew a crowd to every match and extra seating had to be provided for the final as 700 people packed the venue.
Molik was the best ambassador tennis could hope for in reviving interest in the sport across Australia.
So what went wrong in Melbourne?
Molik admitted getting ahead of herself and thinking about the after-match formalities.
“My mind slipped away for a couple of minutes and that was enough,” she said.
“I learned a valuable lesson on what not to do. I’m very disappointed. It sucks. It just goes to show you can’t let your guard down.
“I deserved to lose.”
Molik is a lovely person and there is a lot of goodwill towards her. Everyone hopes she will succeed.
She is a smart tennis player, which is arguably her greatest asset on the comeback trail.
Molik uses slice and spin to good effect, has a clever drop shot, plays power tennis when required and adapts her game to exploit an opponent’s weaknesses.
But she’s not as strong as some players and doesn’t cover the court as quickly as many.
A realistic assessment of her comeback so far would say that she’ll struggle to climb higher than about 80 in world rankings (currently 173).
This is really a critical year for her.
Whatever happens, Molik remains one of the leading personalities of women’s tennis in Australia and still has much to contribute to the sport.