Casey into Australian Open main draw

Playing some of her best tennis in years, 28-year-old Casey Dellacqua has set the stage for a promising 2014, clinching a wildcard into January’s Australian Open main draw after overcoming Arina Rodionova 5-7 6-1 6-0 on Sunday.

“I do feel like I deserve to be in the Australian Open… and I’d rather do it this way and win the wildcard than to ever expect anything or be guaranteed anything, so I’m stoked that I won today,” Dellacqua explained.

It seemed Melbourne had saved the best December weather for the Australian Open Play-off final as the morning sun shone down on the two women at 11am as they warmed up for their final.

But it was a pumped Rodionova who established the early break. She exhibited stellar technique and struck the ball deep and with such spin that it often forced the error from Dellacqua.

While Dellacqua’s first serves were initially not looking as good as they had in the week’s previous matches, her movement on court improved toward the end of the set. She warmed into her points, found her range, forced openings for the occasional forehand winner.

This heightened aggression somewhat threw her opponent; Rodionova double faulted on two occasions, allowing Dellacqua to level the score 4-4.

Yet Rodionova did lift her game at crucial moments while Dellacqua made more unforced errors, allowing Rodionova to break ahead and snatch the first set.

“I knew that I had made too many errors and I said to myself at the beginning of the second set that I’ve really got to find the court, cut down my errors and make her play. Once I do find my range, I can swing out a little bit more which is what I did today,” Dellacqua reflected on the challenging first set.

“I wanted to stamp my authority a little bit there early on in the second and I was ready to step it up in the second and third. That was a tussle, the second game of the second set, and it was a big turning point because I think Arina then felt a lot more pressure on her part; to have to come up and produce better tennis.”

The next two sets featured a number of exceptional rallies yet Dellacqua’s performance was more consistent. Her ball-striking was far more controlled and she was especially confident at the net while Rodionova appeared to prefer covering the baseline.

While Rodionova remained fired up throughout, she began to go for too much, and her balls increasingly fell wide of the sidelines. Dellacqua began imposing significant pressure on each of Rodionova’s service games; the 28-year-old’s consistent deflections of her opponent’s efforts led to long rallies which continued to force the error off Rodionova’s racquet.

Dellacqua dominated, fighting off her exhaustion from having both trained and played during the week, to secure the next two sets 6-1 6-0.

Following the victory, she admitted she knew she would have to be prepared to face a higher standard when playing top 100 players during the Australian Open.

Yet she feels she has been playing some of her best tennis in the past few months and is excited for 2014.

“Even back in ’08 when I had my highest ranking, I probably feel like I’m a better player now,” she said.

“It does feel like another career for me in a way… and things have changed. I’m just happy that I’m healthy. I’m happy that my body’s going really well. I’m happy that I can train and do the things that I need to do to play at this level and I’ve had a great 2013.”

Having had a child since her singles success earlier on in her career where she reached a career high ranking of No.39, she feels she now harnesses a new perspective to her tennis and believes her happiness off court is very much reflected in the quality of her game on it.

“It’s nothing better than having your family around and, at the end of the day, totally switch off from tennis and think about his next feed. So life changes but definitely for the better, that’s for sure,” she said.

“I want to be in to be into the French and Wimbledon and the US Open next year off my own ranking. I don’t want to have to rely on wildcards anymore to be honest. I’m 28 and I’m past all that. The main goal for me is to focus on my singles and get inside the top 100 as quickly as I can.”

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