Victory over Venus puts Molik in orbit

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Australia Day does not dawn until tomorrow, but the nation is already floating in seventh heaven, entranced by the prospect of watching its two top players, Lleyton Hewitt and Alicia Molik, in action at the quarter-finals of their home Grand Slam for the first time.

Australia Day does not dawn until tomorrow, but the nation is already floating in seventh heaven, entranced by the prospect of watching its two top players, Lleyton Hewitt and Alicia Molik, in action at the quarter-finals of their home Grand Slam for the first time.

Molik, who upset Venus Williams in straight sets yesterday, is the first Australian woman in 17 years to make the final eight at Melbourne Park. Hewitt emerged triumphant from a thrilling five-set battle against the young Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, defeating the jinx that has prevented him from advancing beyond the fourth round of the Australian Open.

The former Wimbledon and US Open champion staged a remarkable comeback from two sets to one down to beat Nadal 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 7-6, 6-2. But Molik's 7-5, 7-6 victory was even more stunning. The 23-year-old won her first title only in 2003 and reached the top 20 for the first time last year after taking bronze at the Athens Olympics. She has never before reached the quarter-finals of a major tournament, but appears to be finally fulfilling her potential.

The No 10 seed, who will face Lindsay Davenport on Australia's national day, is playing with a new confidence and self-belief. Yesterday she matched Williams big hit for big hit to pull off the most important win of her career. "I'm extremely happy with the way I performed," said a beaming Molik. "It's a huge feat that I beat Venus, and beat her the way that I did. I beat her playing my tennis. I didn't wait for her to make mistakes."

Molik, who had 11 wins from this season under her belt, converted half of her break point chances and Williams only 14 per cent.

The American No 8 seed was broken in the fourth game, but broke back straight away and saved a set point when serving at 4-5. Two games later, though, she handed Molik another three set points, then sent a backhand long to deliver the first set. In the second set, the Australian held her nerve to win the tie-break 7-3 on her first match point.

Afterwards Williams, who has not won a Grand Slam since the 2001 US Open, was defiant, claiming she would have won had she played five per cent better. "I definitely didn't produce my best tennis today," she said. She declined to praise Molik, and made it clear that she did not rate her chances against Davenport, the world no 1.

Nadal's aggressive game and fighting spirit, not to mention his fiery on-court outbursts, remind many people of Hewitt a few years ago. Yesterday Nadal's steely nerve met Hewitt's iron will on Rod Laver Arena.

The No 3 seed thrives on adversity, but it took a supreme effort to overcome the 18-year-old, who relishes the big set-piece matches as much as he does. Hewitt took the first set, but dropped the second and won only one game in the third, hampered by a hip flexor injury.

In the fourth set it was Nadal, ranked No 51 in the world, who was tiring. Hewitt triumphed in the tie-break and went on to wrap up the match in just under four hours. Tomorrow he will meet David Nalbandian, who beat his fellow Argentinian Guillermo Coria 5-7, 7-5, 6-3, 6-0.

The women's draw lost two top seeds, both Russians, yesterday. Anastasia Myskina, the No 3 and French Open champion, was beaten in straight sets by Nathalie Dechy, of France, while the No 6 seed Elena Dementieva was beaten 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 by Patty Schnyder.

Comments