Aus Open Day 7: Quarter-final berth beckons for Dellacqua
Tennis writers Greg Baum and Linda Pearce preview Day 7 of the Australian Open including Casey Dellacqua's fourth round clash with Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard.PT0M0S 620 349
On this same weekend six years ago, Casey Dellacqua needed to look at the morning papers to make sure she had not been dreaming. But no, there she was - beaming, ecstatic, perhaps almost as shocked by her third-round upset of former world No.1 Amelie Mauresmo as the rest of us were. So it had happened.
The story went like this: natural, almost ordinary, suburban girl introduces herself to Australian audiences with an irresistible run to the last 16 at the Australian Open.
The current version contains no Mauresmo-sized scalp, just 18th seed Kirsten Flipkens, and it is not such an unexpectedly feelgood tale that families are leaping from their lounge chairs to urge her on. But if the circumstances are different now, then Dellacqua is too.
Sole survivor: Casey Dellacqua is chasing a spot in the quarter-finals. Photo: AFP
Not as a person, for the veteran who on Sunday plays Canadian 30th seed Eugenie Bouchard for a place in her first major quarter-final, is the same genuine character she has always been. In typical Casey-speak, she said she was ''pretty buggered'' after she finally left Melbourne Park on Friday night, having earlier announced on live TV after her second-round win in extreme heat that she felt ''pretty bloody good''.
She is as you find her - which, specifically, is into the fourth round without dropping a set, free of the shoulder and foot injuries that cost her almost three seasons from 2009 and far fitter than in the self-conscious old skirt-tugging days that former Australian Institute of Sport coach David Taylor felt betrayed the fact that she was not quite as comfortable and confident as she might have been.
That is behind her, or should be, even if Target has not jumped aboard the sponsorship bandwagon this time and the extent of the world No.120's endorsement support is a few free racquets from HEAD and some gratis outfits from Lululemon.
Casey Dellacqua serves to Zheng Jie of China. Photo: Reuters
Still, Dellacqua's bank balance will rise by at least $135,000 for this singles run. She is still in the mixed and reached the doubles second round here with Ashleigh Barty. Despite Saturday's surprise loss to Timea Babos and Petra Martic, the thriving partnership that led to three grand slam doubles finals last year has also helped to build both players' profiles.
''There's no doubt I think that having a lot of doubles success last year has really catapulted her will and want to succeed in singles,'' said Australia's most recent quarter-finalist at the Open and now its Fed Cup captain, Alicia Molik.
''And she's had a great relationship with her coach, Shannon Nettle. He's done and still is doing an amazing job. He gets the most out of Casey and it's brilliant - they have just the perfect partnership.''
Nettle, clearly, has helped with Dellacqua's preparation, confidence and clarity of both game plan and singles ambition, for it has never been about forehands and backhands alone.
''Yeah, the tennis has never been a problem,'' says the West Australian southpaw, always a fine ball-striker. ''I've had other things to work on. That's what I've done since I had my couple of surgeries.
''Everybody peaks at different times in their careers. You see it in the guys, 25, 26. But even the girls, like Serena. She's playing her best tennis and she's 32. I think you see that a lot more because it's a tough sport, it's mentally tough. It has so many different elements. As you get older, I think you cope with a lot of that stuff better.
''I feel definitely at 28 I'm playing my best tennis. I wish it was 22 or 21 but, at this point in time, I'm happy to be in the fourth round and I'm happy at this point in my career I am playing my best tennis. When I finish, whenever it is, I can say that I reached my potential.''
Does she consider she has underachieved to this point?
''Yeah, I think everyone has their journey,'' she says. ''If I had to self-reflect, I definitely feel I had underachieved, there was more in me. When I was 21, I probably wouldn't have realised that.''
The contrast with Bouchard is obvious, for the Canadian won the junior Wimbledon title, beat former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic in this year's senior event, already has a top-30 ranking and the WTA's newcomer of the year award and is still just 19. Dellacqua, at 19, started the season ranked 291st and finished it playing Futures events in Port Pirie and Nuriootpa.
But Dellacqua at 28 knows a little of what is ahead and, by now, with Nettle's help, will know enough about an emerging opponent whose favourite shot is her serve and is seeded at a slam for the first time. Bouchard has a group of local fans known as the Genie Club and a growing collection of stuffed Australian toy animals being donated as she goes. She would like a bigger one on Sunday, please.
And a win, of course. But the polished Canadian says she is expecting a tough match against Dellacqua and admitted with a smile that she expected to be treated as an enemy of the state against the only local remaining in either singles draw.
''Of course, I'm playing an Australian in Australia,'' Bouchard said. ''Regardless, there's going to be a really good atmosphere on the court, no matter what.''
At the end of it, grand slam tennis will have another quarter-final newcomer. But should it be Dellacqua among the final eight after all this time, and all that has happened, one senses she will believe it and know she deserves it, without needing to unfold a newspaper on Monday morning to be sure it was real.