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Molik Prepares for a Big Year
Saturday, 12 January, 2002
by Nyree Epplett


Australia's No.1 female tennis player Alicia Molik will put last year's demoralising first round defeat behind her when she launches her 2002 Australian Open campaign against the talented Russian Tatiana Panova early next week.

"Well I can only really improve can't I?" joked the matter-of-fact South Australian, referring to her 0-6 0-6 thrashing by Croatian Silvija Talaja at Melbourne Park last January. "I play Panova, which is better than drawing Capriati or Wiliams first round, right?"

Claiming to be relaxed and primed for her home Grand Slam this time around, Molik lent her star power to the opening of the Australian Open retail shop at Melbourne Park on Saturday afternoon. The approachable 20-year-old happily chatted to fans and signed autographs before cruising through the store to check out some of the merchandise.

"I've left that (last year's result) behind. I had a great year and finished quite well." A 'great year' by Molik's standards means she sliced her ranking by more than half (from No. 115 to No.47) to finish at a career high, and usurped Nicole Pratt as the nation's best player. Throughout the year the towering (1.82m) right hander posted wins over a handful of top twenty players, including 15-ranked Magdalena Maleeva enroute to the third round of the US Open.

Best known for her powerful serve-volley game, Molik won two ITF singles titles in Japan, and led Australia to the Fed Cup World Group Finals in Madrid. At Wimbledon her thunderous serve was clocked at 183km/h -making her the sixth fastest server in 2001.

But it was her figure-hugging skirt in a second round match against Lindsay Davenport that caused the biggest stir on the hallowed grass courts. Commentator John McEnroe frowned upon the garb, but Fleet Street loved it.

Unperturbed by the extra attention she received that week, the no-nonsense Aussie confided that her appearance on centre court had fulfilled a lifelong goal. "Playing Davenport at Wimbledon opened my eyes to see what sort of game it takes to be up there," she said.

"This year is different because I'm better prepared by the lead-up events. I've had a great deal of preparation, especially in this windy weather. Physically I've been getting very fit, as well as taking time out when I need to."

Molik has filled her schedule this month with crucial matchplay at the Hopman Cup and the adidas International in Sydney. She is adamant that her new crown as Australia's No.1 player brings with it no additional pressure. "It's the same as usual, quite normal really. I'm just playing better that's all.

"In Melbourne I've been lying low, taking things quietly, which I hope will prepare me the best for my match. I'm relaxed too. I've come to enjoy the Australian Open a little more. It's just another tournament."