She rarely does things the easy way on the tennis court. So it wasn’t too surprising that Daniela Hantuchova overcame 41 unforced errors in her straight set 7-6 (11), 6-4 first round win over Aussie Casey Dellacqua to advance to the second round down under on the first day of the Australian Open.
The 25 year-old 2008 semifinalist withstood a stiff challenge from the 23 year-old southpaw who also had a nice run to the Round of 16 a year ago which might explain why both players were tight combining for 89 miscues including more than half in a topsy turvy 67-minute first set that featured plenty of breaks, sloppiness and tense moments.
Having struggled to regain the form which saw her climb into the top 10 before a stress fracture sidetracked her, Hantuchova’s ranking dropped to 19 entering play without much confidence due to dropping two of three matches during tuneups.
The lanky Slovak who resides in Monte Carlo fell behind an early break but recovered to square the first set at four all before her feisty opponent supported by many hometown observers including parents and grandparents broke twice more but couldn’t serve it out. Instead, Hantuchova who had at least 27 of her 41 unforced errors kept battling through twice breaking back fighting off set points.
Part of that was also due to Dellacqua who herself had 30 miscues in the opening set misfiring plenty from the forehand side while a steadier backhand produced a good share of her 27 winners.
The unpredictable set needed a tiebreak which was even more compelling than the inconsistent play with each player taking turns dictating rallies. Though there were still misses, the rallies got better with each going for more on their shots trying to impose their will.
Having led 5-3 and earning a couple of more set points, Dellacqua couldn’t close it out with Hantuchova saving her best for the big moments coming up with one of seven aces and a running forehand winner down the line with the crowd favorite in a winning position extending the breaker.
But it wasn’t without added drama from the spunky Dellacqua, who twice got favorable bounces on net cords including a forehand that just landed over the net allowing her to get a minibreak back with Hantuchova smiling as they changed ends.
But it was the veteran’s guile which proved to be the difference in an excruciating set using a drop shot to throw off Dellacqua’s timing before claiming the breaker 13-11.
Playing with more confidence, Hantuchova converted her fourth break in six chances to surge ahead early in the second. If there was one difference, Dellacqua was just 3-for-11 on those opportunities.
Trailing 3-5, she let it all hang out producing some rare forehand winners to climb out of a Love-30 hole before holding. When a successful challenge helped her claim the first point with Hantuchova looking to serve it out, Dellacqua followed through with a return forehand winner and took the third point to setup triple break point.
However, just when it seemed she’d wilt under the pressure, the No.19 seed stepped up saving all three by playing some good defense and hitting through her shots finishing off one break point with a backhand half volley crosscourt winner.
Following another drop shot which drew an error, Hantuchova played a good point going shot for shot with Dellacqua before a backhand sailed long allowing the Slovak to pump her fist and celebrate a hard fought victory.
The match lasted an hour and 59 minutes. Hantuchova next takes on Frenchwoman Mathilde Johansson after she completed a comeback win over vet American Jill Craybas 6-2, 1-6, 7-5.
Other winners on the women’s side included top seeded Jelena Jankovic, No.3 Russian Dinara Safina, last year’s runner-up No.5 Serb Ana Ivanovic, No.7 Vera Zvonareva, No.10 Nadia Petrova, No.11 Danish Caroline Wozniacki, No.15 Alize Cornet, No.16 Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli and No.17 Anna Chakvetadze.
First round upset victims included No.23 Hungarian Agnes Szavay along with No.27 Russian Maria Kirilenko.
Jelena Dokic returned to the Australian Open overcoming her past to win a first round match.
Emotional Dokic Cherishes Win: At one time during her career, Jelena Dokic was a top ten player who seemed on the verge of greatness ranking as high as No.4 in the world seven years prior.
But off court distractions with her temperamental Dad Tamir getting in the way preventing bigger things from the physically gifted Croat who now is representing Australia. At the more mature age of 25, there’s still time for Dokic to come back up. So far, so good as she followed up her wildcard win in December that allowed her to make the cut with a well earned three set opening round triumph over Tamira Paszek 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
“It’s really a miracle for me [to be back playing and winning],” an emotional Dokic noted while fighting back tears after the long road back from family dissension and a lengthy bout with depression.
“It’s really emotional to win today. What I had to go through, it’s really great to have this win. I don’t think a lot of people know what this means to me.”
Perhaps a better perspective on life along with the overwhelming support of her boyfriend of six years can revive her once promising career. Dokic finished with 34 winners including a crosscourt gem to clinch her first win down under in exactly a decade when the then teenage phenom made a run to the third round.
In her only other appearance since 2001 three years ago, she succumbed to Virginie Razzano in three sets after coming oh so close to winning a first round encounter when a forehand she felt was a winner was ruled out.
“Tennis is not the most important thing in the world, but it’s something that I love. I was very disappointed when I couldn’t play well,” she admitted.
“It was a tough time in my life. I had a lot to go through, a lot of family issues.
Given another chance, Dokic hopes to make the most out of it and will next face Chakvetadze, who was a three set winner.
“After I won the first set I got really nervous. But it’s great. This is huge for me. You know, after pretty much a three-year absence, to start the year with a win at a Grand Slam is really huge for me,” she acknowledged.
“I didn’t really have any goals or expectations for myself for the first three or four months of the year. I just wanted to work really hard and see what I could do.”