Sport

Last year marked an amazing turnaround in the fortunes of tennis journeyman Casey Dellacqua. Can she play even better in 2015? By Richard Cooke.
Credit: BEN SOLOMON

Breaking back: Casey Dellacqua, 29, tennis player

Casey Dellacqua started on the professional tennis circuit when she was 17. She has been a runner-up in four grand slam doubles titles, won the 2011 French Open in mixed doubles, and has represented Australian in the Federation Cup. Last month she was nominated for the 2014 WTA Most Improved Player of the Year award.

Richard Cooke A year ago you were ranked 209 in the world. Now you’re ranked in the high 20s. What happened?

Casey Dellacqua Well, this time a year ago I pretty much sat down with my coach and just had a chat. We spoke about my schedule, and what I wanted to achieve from both singles and doubles. Last year I’d had a really successful year in doubles with Ash Barty, but where did I want to head with my singles? I decided I was going to put a little bit more emphasis on it and, from that moment on, things just started to improve. By the time the Aussie Open came around I’d had plenty of matches under my belt I was pretty happy with. 

RC Tennis players talk about the loneliness of singles: you’re out there on the court by yourself, you can’t confer with your coach, there’s no teammate. It’s just you and the opponent and the crowd. Do you find that you miss having a partner when you move from doubles to singles? 

CD Yeah, I do. I always grew up as a little girl playing a lot of team sports, so I do enjoy playing doubles purely for that reason because I like having a partner out there. But there is an aspect of singles that I really enjoy, which is the challenge of just you and your opponent going head to head, and trying to work out ways to beat them. That’s not always hitting the ball the best, but mentally maybe having an edge over your opponent. I do enjoy probably both aspects. I love the challenge of just being out there by myself, even though sometimes it can be a bit daunting.

RC How do you think the tour is changing at the moment? 

CD I think it has always been a pretty tough sport. I mean, I’m 29 now and I pretty much have been on tour from when I was 17. So I know what it’s like, and I think it’s just getting tougher, to be honest. It can be really hard, but it is worthwhile, and if you really want to do it, it’s definitely worth persisting with. I always tell the younger girls, you know, it’s not about short-term results. It’s just about long-term setting up, establishing yourself as a player, getting out and getting some experience, and you’re going to have some really low times and then you’ll have some great moments as well, but you’ve just got to try to keep it as even keel as you can throughout the whole year and not have too many highs and lows.

RC Is the fact it’s more competitive making it less friendly?

CD Potentially, yeah. I think with the guys it may be a little bit different. Whereas the girls kind of have their team around them, and stick within that team. Everyone else is kind of a competitor. 

RC People are looking for that psychological edge off the court as well? 

CD Yeah – all those little things. You just kind of try not to get too involved in that. I just try to go about my business. I mean, I have friends on tour, but they’re also my competitors, so I don’t really hang around too many of them to be honest. 

RC That sounds like it’s a bit of a change from when you first started on the tour? 

CD Yeah. When I first started playing I had Rennae Stubbs, I had Alicia Molik and I had a couple of the older girls who mentored me along the way; that really helped me. They’ve all retired now. I had Ash Barty with me last year. She’s travelled a lot with me and I’ve become good friends with her. Other than that, it’s a pretty tough sport.

RC Over a career this long, does your motivation change, and what is it at the moment? 

CD I think to have longevity in the sport you’ve got to keep resetting goals. I’m 29 and I don’t know how many more years I will play. I want to keep playing as long as I can and while I’m doing well, but I do really want to finish my sport and just know that I gave it everything and I pretty much didn’t leave any stone unturned.

This week’s highlights…

• Soccer: Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC

Today, 7.30pm, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne

• Basketball: WNBL, Canberra Capitals v Townsville 

Tomorrow, 3pm, AIS Arena, Canberra

• Cricket: Australia v India second Test

Wednesday-Sunday, 10am (local time), Gabba, Brisbane

Buy tickets now for…

• Big Bash League: Hobart Hurricanes v Sydney Sixers

December 23, Blundstone Arena, Hobart

• Tennis: Kooyong Classic

January 13-16, Kooyong, Melbourne

• V8 Supercars: Adelaide 500 

February 26-March 1, Adelaide

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 13, 2014 as "Breaking back". Subscribe here.

Richard Cooke
is a journalist and writer for television. He is The Saturday Paper's sports editor.