Australian Open wildcard for Dellacqua

Although Casey Dellacqua cannot recall the exact year she last won the Australian Open wildcard play-off (for the record, it was 2009), the national No.2 does know that she wants this week's encore to be the last time she books entry to a grand slam via the metaphorical back door.

Since re-dedicating herself to singles mid-year under new coach Shannon Nettle, Dellacqua has been working towards the return to the top 100 that would guarantee the new mother and established doubles star direct main-draw entry to the four majors. Her wildcard days are, she hopes, done.

''That's my main goal; I want 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 any more,'' the top seed said after icing her busy play-off week with a 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 defeat of No.3 Arina Rodionova at Melbourne Park.

''I'm 28, I'm past all that, so the main goal for me is to focus on my singles and to get inside the top 100 as quickly as I can.''

Dellacqua, a 2013 doubles finalist with Ashleigh Barty, confirmed a singles place in her 11th Australian Open next month. Chances are that she would have received a discretionary wildcard, but she put herself on the line during a busy stretch combining both training and playing.

''I do feel like I deserve to be in the Australian Open, but obviously I'm not because my ranking's not where it should be. But this is an opportunity to be able to gain a spot into the Australian Open, and I'd rather do it this way and win the wildcard than ever expect anything or be guaranteed anything, so, yeah, I'm stoked that I won,'' she said. ''I can prepare for the summer the way I want to ... all these girls have nothing to lose against me and I know that, so I have to be ready to go for each match. Some girls came up with some good stuff during the week, but I was always able to get there in the end.''

Rodionova, too, can reasonably expect a wildcard reward for her finals week, at least if past precedents are any guide. Australian tennis followers have become familiar with a Rodionova – indeed, A Rodionova – and this Rodionova is the younger sister of the more experienced Anastasia.

The Russian-born Melbourne resident – who still officially represents Russia in WTA events while awaiting her citizenship, but is counted as Australian for grand slam purposes – started impressively against a slightly wayward Dellacqua, but was ultimately unable to get her hands on the 24th birthday present she craved.

The match turned on Rodionova's dropped serve in the second game of the second set, as Dellacqua gradually found her range. The left-hander lost only one of the next 11 games, and was then presented with her Australian Open accreditation before joining her partner Amanda and five-month-old son Blake on a flight home to Sydney.

Dellacqua, who reached the fourth round of the 2008 Open and a career-high ranking of 39th soon after, is in a different place in her life and career now, but a satisfying one. She is content and settled off the court, and her tennis is benefiting to the point that she believes she is a better player than before the first of two serious injuries interrupted her progress in 2009.

''I'm just happy that I'm healthy, one; 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. That was a good first career, but I'm looking forward to the rest of this career,'' said Dellacqua. And motherhood? ''There's nothing better than having your family around – at the end of the day I totally switch off from tennis and think about his next feed, so life changes but definitely for the better.''

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