Melbourne VIC, Australia, 18 December 2017 | Matt Trollope
A more well-rounded game will stand Destanee Aiava in good stead as she goes into her second Australian Open main draw in 2018.
That’s the view of Australian Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik, who was in the stands to watch Aiava sweep aside Tammi Patterson to claim the Australian Open Play-off wildcard.
In 2017, Aiava made her Grand Slam debut at Melbourne Park. But 12 months on, Molik believes Aiava’s increased maturity – in both her game and mentality – makes her an even bigger threat this time around.
“I think she’s a more complete player. I think she’s more mature in understanding her opponents and just probably handling a bigger occasion. And this for her is a big occasion, winning the wildcard play-off,” Molik said.
“I think maturity has played a big part; we know Des is a great mover, powerful, dynamic. But I think she also understands what to do when she’s (pushed) outside of the court. I think she had a lot more options now and she’s very good when she’s forced in a defensive position.
“Because her game is to be on the attack, I think before she wasn’t so familiar with what to do with the ball. But now she’s making all the right choices – flipping the ball up high, using the spin. We expect power (from her) but when she does use her spin, her height, her slices – she’s adding to her game now, which is really pleasing.”
Aiava began the 2017 season ranked 386th but cracked the top 150 – peaking at No.147 – in September, finishing the year ranked No.154.
Following her Australian Open appearance she contested qualifying at all the other Grand Slam events – reaching the final round at Wimbledon – and was selected as a member of the Australian Fed Cup team that travelled to Serbia for a World Group II Play-off tie in April.
Molik says those experiences have been invaluable for the 17-year-old as she prepares to embark on her 2018 campaign.
“She’s been around top players now; even her experience with the Fed Cup team, being a part of that … She more than stacks up (when she hits with them),” Molik said.
“That’s the thing about Des; she rises to the level that she’s competing against. It’s very easy for her to switch gears to be at the level of a top-20 or top-30 player. She has that, and she can bring that. I’ve seen it before on the court.
“So for her, the more she can be around the top calibre of tennis players in the world, and have more of those practices, play more of those matches, she’ll have more of that experience.
“But she’s a lot more comfortable now. I think just more within herself, in this environment, and performing. She’s used to it now, and she likes it now – I think before she was a little bit more in her shell. But she’s really deserving of this (wildcard).”