Alicia On The Ascent
Published April 30, 2010 12:00
KHARKIV, Ukraine - Days after she re-entered the Top 100 at No.97, Alicia Molik's return from a year in retirement received another boost last weekend when the revitalized former world No.8 helped restore Australia to the Fed Cup's elite eight nation World Group for the first time since 2004.
Occupying the No.3 singles slot behind Samantha Stosur and Anastasia Rodionova against Ukraine, there was no guarantee Molik would even take to the court. But after Stosur had given the Australians an unassailable 3-0 lead in the first reverse singles match on Sunday, team captain David Taylor - formerly Molik's personal coach, who now works with Stosur - gave her the nod.
With her fiancée Tim cheering in the stands, the 29-year-old duly played her part in the eventual 5-0 whitewash, beating Mariya Koryttseva in the longest match of the tie, 26 62 75.
"It's fantastic to win for the girls, and great to get a guernsey," said the amiable Aussie after the match. "Sometimes it's difficult to get out there during a dead rubber, but you have to look at it the right way. It's great practice for upcoming tournaments - and a 5-0 victory is something to savour."
Ironically, Australia was beaten by Ukraine in a World Group II play-off on the Gold Coast in 2007, a loss that condemned the Aussies to a long climb back from zone competition. Having exacted their revenge, in 2011 they will be gunning for a first Fed Cup trophy since 1974 when Evonne Goolagong was in the winning side.
"I think anything's possible for our team," said Molik.
"Sam's Top 10 in the world and there are three or four players in our team right now - Rodionova, myself, Casey Dellacqua, Jelena Dokic - who are all very dangerous players on our day. And with Rennae Stubbs and Sam able to team up for the crucial doubles ties… we're pretty strong on all fronts.
"We all come together and support each other - not just in these Fed Cup weeks but the other weeks on Tour as well. Everyone's very humble and gets along. No matter whether you're No.1 or No.4, you're sitting on the bench, playing, being called up to play… everyone's very good about treating everyone else the same way."
Next up for Molik is Rome, where she hopes to win through qualifying.
"I love the clay swing through Spain and Italy and France, and of course I'm looking forward to the grass," she said. "I've got this ranking really without any points from Grand Slams, so I'm really excited about what's coming up at the French Open and Wimbledon, and the opportunity those tournaments create."
Molik left the game in September 2008, nagging leg and elbow problems taking their toll. After playing the first match of her comeback in doubles at New Haven last summer she knuckled down to an exhaustive ITF Circuit assault in Australia. This year on Tour there have been wins over the likes of Zheng Jie and Anabel Medina Garrigues, her best result being a last 16 showing at Indian Wells.
"I feel I've had some good form this year, and certainly breaking into the Top 100 is an indication," said Molik, who is even higher in the Race to the Sony Ericsson Championships at No.41. "The Race towards the end of the year is always fun, to see exactly how you stand amongst the best girls in the world."
Before her 'long service leave' Molik won five singles titles on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, most notably at Zürich in 2004, where she beat Maria Sharapova in the final. She won two Grand Slam doubles titles, the Australian Open in 2005 and the French Open in 2007, and beat then world No.3 Anastasia Myskina for the singles bronze medal at the Athens Olympics.