MELBOURNE, Australia - Last Thursday, hopes of an Australian winner in Melbourne ended for another year when Marion Bartoli knocked out Jelena Dokic in the evening session on Rod Laver. But while the eight women flying the flag in the singles draw may have lasted just four days, the future for tennis Down Under remains bright.
The most high profile of the week one casualties was World No.5 Sam Stosur, who crashed out in the first round to Sorana Cirstea. Despite this setback, the 27-year-old is currently enjoying the most successful period in her career to date - highlighted by a memorable US Open title run last September - and the disappointment should also be tempered by the knowledge that Melbourne has never been a happy hunting ground; in 12 appearances, her best showings have been fourth round runs in 2010 and 2006. Stosur will also draw comfort from the fact that, with few ranking points to defend between now and May, she has a relatively pressure-free environment to play herself into form ahead of Indian Wells, Miami and her favored clay court season.
Another player who has felt the expectations of the Melbourne crowd weigh heavily on her shoulders is Australian No.2 Jarmila Gajdosova. From seven appearances in the tournament's main draw, Gajdosova, who switched allegiances from Slovakia to Australia in 2009, is yet to win a match, this time falling to Maria Kirilenko, 64 62. However, like Stosur, she has flourished away from home, making the fourth round at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and last year reached a career-high ranking of No.25.
And judging by her comments following the loss to Kirilenko, Gajdosova is determined to come back from the disappointment a stronger player. "Losing first round, it's always frustrating," she said. "I feel losses like this, especially home, but I got to 25 in the world for a reason and I can get there again. I've got a full schedule and have Doha, Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami to work towards."
Two players who know what it is like to overcome disappointment are Casey Dellacqua and Dokic. Back in 2008, Dellacqua reached the fourth round of the Australian Open on her way to a career-high ranking of No.39. However, after finally establishing herself as a mainstay in the Top 100, disaster struck in February 2009 when she was forced to undergo shoulder surgery and spend the rest of the season on the sidelines.
The road back has been a long and arduous one, and it took until the end of 2011 before Dellacqua's comeback started to gain some momentum, courtesy of a 30-match win streak on the Australian ITF circuit. Although her Australian Open campaign ended in the second round with defeat to Victoria Azarenka, at 26 Dellacqua looks fit and ready for a renewed tilt at the Top 50.
"I've really, really put in some hard work," Dellacqua said. "It's still a work in progress. I've still got things to work on in all parts of my tennis, but I certainly feel strong. I feel good. I feel fit. I feel mentally fresh as well. I think all those things are real positives."
Dokic, who has suffered more than her fair share of career ups and downs, also has reason to feel positive about the season ahead. Last year saw her return to the Top 50 for the first time since 2004 and with the nagging shoulder injury that blighted the latter part of 2011 - and contributed to her slipping back to No.64 - now no more, she could soon be rejoining her compatriots Stosur and Gajdosova in the Top 50.