Casey Dellacqua arrived at Melbourne Park carrying her new baby. In this, the most adolescent of sports, it was an unusual sight. But then the 28-year-old is not your typical WTA player.
In October, she was running around in the not-exactly-time-honoured Bendigo International Tournament. She later had to rely on wildcards to enter both the Brisbane International and the Australian Open.
It was a snapshot of a career that has spluttered since she catapulted into the spotlight at the 2008 Australian Open. That year, she rolled the 2006 champion Amelie Mauresmo and seemed capable of anything. Since then, she has been bedevilled by injury, criticized for both her weight and work ethic and written off as a serious contender.
But a new baby, a brutal fitness campaign and favourable hot conditions have all worked to her advantage this week. What’s more, it’s not as if she had been beating duds. She knocked off a former world No. 2, the 18th seed and a former Australian Open semi-finalist. Sunday night’s opponent Eugenie Bouchard was no slouch either, with Martina Navratilova having described her as a future Grand Slam winner. Indeed, her big-swinging and nerveless game suggest a player seriously going places.
Her serve, in particular, was expected to cause concern for the Australian. It didn’t hold up early, however, and Dellacqua quickly broke her. Bouchard broke back and took it to a tie-break, in which Dellacqua prevailed 7-5. A few whopping backhands and a greater willingness to mix things up and take her chances proved decisive in the closest of sets.
The match turned abruptly in the Canadian’s favour however, with her superior court coverage and groundstroke clout clearly evident. Squaring things up with a 6-2 romp, she had all the momentum, had silenced the crowd and seemed poised to progress to her first Grand Slam quarter final. And so it proved, with the final set quickly turning into a rout. Bouchard’s forehand proved lethal and Dellacaua’s serve deserted her as she went down 7-6, 6-2, 6-0.
The last of the Aussies thus departs, The Fanatics contemplate their return to school and Australian tennis – for the first time in several years – is on the cusp of an exciting new era. True, Hewitt is a bit long in the tooth, Tomic seems disinclined to break out of a trot and the gap between Stosur’s good and bad widens. But there’s an energy and an optimism that has been lacking since we were last winning Davis Cups.
Harry Hopman would be rolling in his grave if he saw the get-up on the likes of Nick Krygios and Thanassi Kokkinakis, but they have the strut and all- round games to make a mark over the next decade. Some sage advice from former champions and few months in Dellacqua’s much-vaunted boot camp could take them to the next level.
Meanwhile, with Serena Williams bundled out by Ana Ivanovic, the women’s draw has opened right up. Williams was clearly hampered by a back injury but the Serb – who has flattered to deceive in recent years – played out of her skin. Her quarter-final opponent will be no less daunting, however. Looking at Bouchard’s last two sets tonight, she’s as good a chance to snare the title as anyone.