by Nyree Epplett
Tuesday, January 18, 2000
Powerful young Australian Alicia Molik found herself in the company of the world's best female tennis players today - the 18-year-old South Australian joining defending champion Martina Hingis and other seeds Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (No.13), Conchita Martinez (No.10) and Barbara Schett (No.6) in the winners' circle at Australian Open 2000.
But while the Hingis, Sanchez-Vicario and Martinez triumphs were a walk in the park (collectively the trio lost nine games), Schett and Molik were forced to dig deep for their respective three-set victories over American Meilen Tu [6-2 6-7(1) 6-4] and Croatia's Silvija Talaja. Molik's gutsy 6-1 5-7 7-5 win, the first by an Australian female at this year's event, only served to fuel the belief that the natural serve-volleyer could possess a somewhat brighter future than her more high-profile countrywoman Jelena Dokic - a first round loser here Monday.
Dokic's progress this past year may have overshadowed the still-evolving Molik, but, say the bravest of tennis pundits, the tall Aussie has the big, expansive game to shake the best, including a thunderbolt serve - the weapon sorely missing from the Dokic artillery.
On Show Court 3 Tuesday, that same serve provided the Aussie with more than a handful of free points, 17 aces in total, including two to finish off Talaja - the singles winner at the Thalgo Australian Women's Hardcourt Championships on the Gold Coast two weeks ago.
"To come out and play a player who is in form like she is, is great. The crowd were really behind me today, and it's unfortunate that none of the other Aussie girls have made it through yet," said Molik, who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, after the Croat served for the match at 5-3 in the final set.
Molik went on to win four straight games to take the match in one hour and 55 minutes.
Incidentally, Molik's compatriot, wildcard Bryanne Stewart defeated Venezuelan Maria Alejandra Vento in straight sets to become the second local woman into the round of 64.
"My whole game plan was not to hold back and just to go for it and keep playing my style," added Molik. "That's the only way I got through it. I served smart which took a lot of the pressure off.
"The courts are definitely quicker, although I'm not complaining. I wasn't going to walk off that court without putting the pressure on her," continued the Aussie.