Casey Dellacqua’s victory over Kirsten Flipkens at Hisense Arena on Wednesday had the tennis savants identifying a familiar scenario.
As Dellacqua smacked a final forehand winner up the line and screamed in delight following her 6-3 6-0 pasting of the No.18 seed, it brought back memories of her victory on the same court in the same round against a similarly-ranked opponent – 15th seed Patty Schnyder – back in 2008.
That year, Dellacqua was the feel-good story of the tournament as she enjoyed a barnstorming run through to the fourth round.
And now, six years later, she finds herself just one win away from equaling that career-best performance at Melbourne Park, all the while being vastly more experienced, fit and mentally strong.
“I guess in terms of my career, where I've come, like my second career I kind of call it in a way, it's probably definitely the best career win for me in that sense since my injuries and stuff,” she revealed.
“(It) means a lot to win today. Being she's obviously 18th seed … I'm outside (top) 100. Haven't been pushing the later stages of Grand Slams for a while. Yeah, it means a lot.”
Dellacqua looked sharp from the outset against her opponent, a Wimbledon semifinalist last year and who, in her previous match, beat British talent Laura Robson by the exact same scoreline she’d find herself on the receiving end of today.
The Belgian simply had no answers to Dellacqua’s intelligent play. The Aussie varied her paces, trajectories and angles throughout rallies, peppering Flipkens' weaker backhand wing and only pulling the trigger when the opportunity arose.
And when it did, she executed perfectly, threading winners or stretching Flipkens on the run to force errors.
The Belgian coughed up plenty of them – 29 to be exact – as well as an unsightly seven double faults.
“I think I just played a really good match today. I had a pretty clear understanding of what I needed to do to win,” Dellacqua said.
“I knew she couldn't hurt me off the backhand side. It was just a matter of me keep going back in there, just be patient and work the point as best I could, try and be aggressive when I had the chance.”
At the same time, Flipkens’ weapons were simply not working for her, especially her big off-forehand – an observant Dellacqua offered up some strategic moonballs to coax her into hitting that shot on the rise, and Flipkens frequently botched the reply into the net or wide.
This pattern lead to a break of serve for Dellacqua in the fifth game, and it was an advantage she maintained throughout the remainder of the set. Visibly growing in confidence, she leaned into two powerful returns to bring up 0-30 in the ninth game, and benefitted from a pair of Flipkens errors to take the set.
When Dellacqua broke serve in the second game to open up a 2-0 lead, Flipkens’ spirit and fight appeared extinguished.
“I guess in the second set there even at 1-0, I went up 2-0, you know, those are the important games when you win the first set to just kind of knuckle down, try and get on top as quickly as I can,” she reflected.
Despite some nervy play from the West Australian as the finish line came within sight, she admirably hit out and was rewarded, closing out the match in just over an hour.
Dellacqua believes she’s a better player – in terms of ball-striking and court movement – than the one who reached the last 16 six years ago. In fact, she feels she’s discovered some of the best form of her life.
And that won’t come as good news to either American Madison Keys or Zheng Jie of China, one of whom she’ll face in her next match.
“That (2008 run) was all a blur for me. I don't know how to explain it,” she said.
“I feel like now I'm a bit more in control of my emotions, maybe what's going on, understanding why I'm winning matches, where I'm at. I think you're such a different person when you're 22 to when you're 28.
“I know I've beaten a quality opponent (in Flipkens) now. I do believe I can continue to beat players like that. If it's here at the Australian Open, that would be great. But I'll definitely be having a good crack on Friday to continue this run here and hopefully keep that going.”