by Nyree Epplett
Thursday, January 20, 2000
Given the recent headline-grabbing antics of young Australian Jelena Dokic, it seemed only fitting that two other promising, blonde, pony-tailed Aussies, Bryanne Stewart and Alicia Molik, emerged on Day 4 to take their share of the Grand Slam limelight.
Long-time friends and training partners at the Australian Institute of Sport, Stewart and Molik are now bracing themselves for their biggest career pay cheques to date (and a much-deserved shopping trip this afternoon), after advancing to the third round with emphatic wins over Switzerland's Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Slovakia's Karina Habsudova respectively.
Their refreshing wins Thursday afternoon turned the nation's media attention (and rightly so) back onto the tennis court, and away from the off-court Dokic drama that had preoccupied Wednesday's news desks.
Stewart was the first to triumph on Thursday, outlasting the diminutive Gagliardi in three sets 2-6 6-4 6-4. For the 20-year-old from Sydney's northern suburbs, the gutsy win, slugged out on Court 7, signified her furthest foray into a singles Grand Slam event. In fact, before this week, Stewart had never won a main draw Grand Slam match.
A promising junior who reached the semifinals of junior Wimbledon, Stewart's singles ranking since turning professional two years ago had languished in the low 200s.
Thursday's effort looked more like top 50, with Stewart's penetrating groundstrokes placing her Swiss opponent on the defensive from the start.
"I'm very excited about that win, although it hasn't settled in yet. I kept my calm quite well and I was quite lucky on that last point. But I didn't expect to get to the third round," said Stewart, a wildcard entrant here who will meet No.13 seed Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in the third round.
"I just seem to be able to go for my shots a lot more and they are coming off. When asked if she could relate to what Dokic was experiencing, Stewart replied: "I don't have that much pressure on me, only the pressure I put on myself."
But Stewart isn't thinking about her next match just yet - there are some more enjoyable things to take care of.
"I'm already planning my shopping trip down to Chapel Street, South Yarra," said a beaming Stewart, who partnered Molik (her room mate at the AIS for two years) to a handful of satellite doubles titles in Japan in 1998.
Molik's 6-2 6-3 fearless win over her much higher ranked Slovakian opponent (No.53) was the second upset the girl from Adelaide had produced for the tournament, the tall serve-volleyer having ousted No.23-ranked Silvija Talaja on Tuesday.
The win almost certainly sets up a third round encounter against three-time defending champion Martina Hingis, provided the Swiss Miss gets past Belgium's Justine Henin Thursday night.
"I played more solidly than my first match, and not in patches. My game's coming together really well and I'm producing some of my best stuff at the moment," said a jubilant Molik.
"It's nice to see some of the other talent and names of Australian women's tennis doing well. The public don't see a lot of the girls, they don't take much notice until you get to the third round."
Equipped with a mammoth serve and a naturally aggressive game that has been likened to that of 1998 Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna, the 116th-ranked, but increasingly confident Molik admitted she will relish the opportunity of a crack at the current world No.1.
"I haven't played on centre court but I'm looking forward to it. Martina and I have contrasting styles, but I'll be looking to attack. That's my style," said 18-year-old Molik, who admires the all-court game of fellow Queenslander Pat Rafter.
"I think I'll be joining Bryanne shopping this afternoon. And no, I won't be needing a shopping list!" joked Molik.