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November 1, 2019

Alicia Molik

Shenzhen, China

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Surprise, surprise, I'll ask you about Ashleigh Barty. What do you make of what she's been doing this week?
ALICIA MOLIK: I think her level has been improving as the week has gone on. She's been very impressive, particularly the last match. I was really, yeah, rapt for Ash the way she was able to under pressure close the match out. It was a significant match, so much riding on it.

But it's been really a theme for Ash for the last year or 18 months, hasn't it? She rises to the occasion in the bigger matches.

The court is playing perfectly for Ash, as well. She's able to take pace from some of the bigger hitters, as well. It really gels with her game by using her spin and under-slice. We've seen a lot of that. I'm sure we can expect a lot more of that, too.

Q. What did you make of the previous match? We were surprised she lost that.
ALICIA MOLIK: I'm in the same boat. It was a very clean match for Ash up until a set and 3-2, and then it was eight games on the trot. It's natural for tennis players at times to have a let-up. Generally it lasts one or two minutes.

I think for Ash, she was maybe a bit stunned the level Kiki brought. She felt like she had an extra life, almost a 'get out of jail free' card against the No. 1 in the world. When Ash took a step back, Kiki really forced the issue.

At this level, when you let someone in, I think Ash mentioned, she let her in twice in the match, that's too many. I think having mental letdowns is fine, part of the sport. It's important then to regain and switch on. Two or three minutes maybe of a letdown is enough, but then bring it back.

Kiki, that was impressive. She had a lot of match practice last week. Her level was great. I mean, she was coming out to play. Of course, she would. Everyone does against the now No. 1 in the world.

Q. Do you remember the first time that you met Ash?
ALICIA MOLIK: Yeah, I first saw and -- when I say 'met' I might have said hi. Somebody introduced me to her, one of the state coaches. I was playing professionally at the time. Maybe I was 23 or 24 at the time. I think Ash was maybe only 10 or 11 at the time.

It was actually a Clay Court Nationals event in Melbourne. A good friend of mine who was one of the coaches in Queensland said, You got to come and have a look at this girl, she's great, plays fantastic. I drove down to watch the junior event out of interest.

She was great. She could do everything. Maybe didn't have the size of the other competitors or girls within the draw, but certainly more than made up for it with, I guess, the other attributes that even make her a great tennis player now.

Yeah, she was a little bit shorter than the rest of the field, but she could do everything. I remember seeing her chip, kick, slice. Seemed very developed in comparison to her peers.

Q. Obviously having known her for so long, probably even before her break, how do you kind of assess how she has changed as a player and a person? Are you surprised after winning the French Open, getting to No. 1, that rise was very fast, how well she seems to have handled kind of the alpha on the tour?
ALICIA MOLIK: Well, Ash clearly learns very quickly. From the time she stepped back on the court after her break, it's been a rapid rise in terms of a learning curve. She's one player I think who has an experience on court, maybe a particular win or a loss, but she will learn immediately from that experience.

I think so often we see a lot of top players get caught in the same modes, lose matches for the same reasons, a bit of a vicious cycle.

I think that's part to do with the rapid rise in Ash Barty. Also I think before she had the break, Ash had started to have a bit of success on the doubles court. She knew what that felt like.

But coming back and having immediate doubles success with Casey Dellacqua, made a lot of slam finals, I think that helped her grow as a person inside and out, become confident with her tennis, confident within herself. She's really blossomed.

She knows what makes her a good tennis player. She knows what she wants in tennis and off court. I think she's just a very measured person.

Ash is unique to the rest of the field because I think, too, she has a perspective that no one else has experienced. She took a couple years out of the game. No one else has had that. Maybe a break for injury reasons, so forth. But she's had an experience that is very, very unique.

I think that's part of the reason why I think she'll remain at the top for a very long time. She knows what the other side is like. She's also excited about continuing to achieve. She wants to get better every day.

I just watched her practice before. She is still tinkering. She is wanting to hit the ball, strike the ball better, be challenged. I think that's the makeup of a great champion.

Q. Ash is a unique character. Australia is a very big country, so many athletes, you love your sports. What kind of impact has Ash perhaps had, what kind of reaction has it been in Australia to her French Open win?
ALICIA MOLIK: I think it's just the start of it really. Ash has a very wide-ranging legion of fans in Australia. We have the young kids who love watching Ash Barty. We have teenagers who all want to play like her. We've got mums and dads who no doubt admire her game. They want their kids to try and play like Ash.

Then, of course, I think you have the older generation she appeals to, as well, because of the way she goes about her tennis with her sportswoman-ship, the way she plays so fair. She's very measured on court. I think that appeals to the older generation, too.

She's captured a huge audience in Australia. Often we're harsh critics in Australia, the press I think are. Because unless you're No. 1 in the world, it's pretty hard to get a front page of the newspaper. That's what it takes to get the front page. She's become No. 1, she's had that. I think she's just moving along with the experience.

I know Ash has still been, prior to coming here to Shenzhen, on a number of club visits, junior visits. Obviously the ambassador role she holds with indigenous sport, too, is significant, means so much to her.

Yeah, it's having a huge impact in Australia, massive. I have no doubt, and I hope, it's spreading around the world, too. I think for so many years so many people that love tennis have watched similar game styles all the time dominating women's tennis. I think it's a breath of fresh air I'd like to think for everyone else watching tennis around the world.

Q. She's obviously handled everything brilliantly this year, French Open, being world No. 1. She's got a couple of things coming up that are a different scale with Fed Cup and with going to the Australian Open almost certainly as world No. 1 and certainly as the home favorite. How do you think she's equipped to cope with all of that?
ALICIA MOLIK: Well, she's more than proven herself in Fed Cup over many years now, particularly this year. We relied on Ash a lot the last two ties. She I think revels in that type of environment.

She had a brilliant few wins in America, knocking off Keys, starting off with a deficit in the first set. Also winning the decisive doubles rubber, as well. I can't forget about that because it was so significant. She competed the same in April. Big matches.

I think she is built for that. Doesn't shy away from the big moments. That's a true quality for Ash.

The Aussie Open is an unknown, isn't it? She hasn't entered as No. 1. Sometimes the expectations are good because you bring a certain level. I mean, she's achieved so much already, I'm not sure if there will be a heap of expectation on Ash. I think her demands will be that much greater around the public, the press, TV, everyone wanting to get a piece of her.

She has a great team around her I guess to work with what she likes doing, working out her time and schedule.

Q. You're saying you feel she won't buckle under that weight of expectation?
ALICIA MOLIK: No, no. She hasn't buckled before. I don't think she's about to do it.

Q. The Fed Cup final, a lot going on even here in Shenzhen with Sam and Ash. What is your mindset going into that final as captain? Obviously having Ash is a nice ace in the hole to have, but what is the key to winning that for Australia?
ALICIA MOLIK: For us, it's exciting that we have two players contending in this event still who are in the semifinals. So for me as captain, I couldn't think of a more perfect situation to be in. What you really want is your players having a bank of matches, match practice.

Next week my vision is that it will be very short and sharp sessions finishing off. I think it's the perfect preparation coming into a tie.

Also for us, we have the versatility now, or I have the versatility, of being able to select Ajla Tomljanovic. She hasn't been part of our team before. That adds another wonderful option in singles, Along with Sam, Ash, Priscilla Hon and Astra Sharma.

I really feel like all of our team have had great years in their own sense. I have to put Pri in that bracket, as well. Astra, as well. First year in the top 100.

We're very excited to have Ajla. It's her first Fed Cup experience. We want to make it a memorable one, too.

Q. On Ajla, do you know what happened? According to the rules initially she wasn't eligible to play, now she is.
ALICIA MOLIK: So she appealed and the ITF agreed with her, finally overturned their decision in her favor. In short, she started the process of becoming Australian before the ITF introduced the rule.

I think their final decision is fair and just. It completely made sense. I'm just surprised it didn't happen much, much sooner along of process of Ajla going through what she has done to become Australian.

It's great news for her, too. I think it's what she's been waiting for.

Q. With the Fed Cup format changing in the future, what are your feelings on that?
ALICIA MOLIK: I prefer home ties, home finals. For us in Australia, yes, we have the summer in January, but then tennis leaves the country a lot. Through the year it's our opportunity as a Fed Cup team to represent Australia, to play in front of families, kids, clubs. We always take the opportunity to run girls camps around the Fed Cup. It really I think bolsters interests for a lot of kids.

That I think is going to be a real shame. We don't have that opportunity at home to continue that fashion. Fed Cup in Australia has a really, really rich history.

I'm sad about it, but we'll get on with it, move on with it. It will be in Budapest, it will be for the week. We'll adjust that for the players. They can play on clay, then their season moves that way in Europe. I think it will work well for them.

Q. One of the things Ash told us in Wuhan is the fact she went home frequently this year, something difficult for Australians, that made a huge difference. Having been a player yourself, making the long trips, how tricky is it from a psychological perspective to be home for long stretches? What is the key to handling that?
ALICIA MOLIK: Well, I think traveling so far regularly makes you stay committed to your schedule, first of all, which I think is a positive. Then around your four or five or six trips away overseas, that's how many Ash would have done. People complain going to Australia for three or four weeks in January. She does that six times through the year.

But it makes I guess for players coming from Australia, they make a solid schedule and stick to it because they've built in their breaks through the year. It's not as flexible as being in Europe.

But everyone is different. I used to love going home, back to Australia, but there was probably a time in my career I wish I had a European base. I'll probably look back and almost regret that.

For Ash it works. She also comes home and she knows how long a break she needs every time, completely switches off, allows herself enough time training. For instance, to get ready for here, she had a block of training. Prior to that put down her racquets, as well.

She's found a really healthy formula, not just on the rollercoaster the whole time. She's not chasing matches, not chasing tournaments. I think that's the ideal place for a player to be in.

Q. This year with the way the season has played out, even the way that last season ended with Naomi, Ash, Bianca, we talk about the youth, experience, but do you see them potentially being a WTA big three in terms of what they've accomplished already, or do you think the way the tour is now kind of evolving, that isn't a thing?
ALICIA MOLIK: Yeah, I think they can become that absolutely. The first thing this year that's probably entered my mind is I think, for instance, Ash and Bianca Andreescu, in particular, are going to have some blockbuster finals. I'm excited about the two styles they bring, how exciting they play. I can't wait for a women's final that has both of them in that.

I think it will be a few players dominating. We're probably ready for that, too, now. There's been continual changes, something like 36 different winners of tournaments this year, I think 16 maiden title winners, if I have my figures right. Said that a few times on air (smiling). There's been a lot of shifting with title winners.

Everyone likes a rivalry in tennis. I do get the sense the change is happening now.

Q. This year, some players withdrew, Naomi and Bianca and Kiki. Who do you think will win the trophy and why?
ALICIA MOLIK: Oh, tough one. I'd like Ash to win. She's been building her level of play. I really like how she's striking the ball. I also think the fact that she almost went out against Kiki Bertens, too. I think when you're playing, you felt that sense of defeat. I think it can only hold you in good stead, as well.

But I think, yeah, look, it's tough to call, isn't it? I think it's whoever is going to bring the most energy. It's the end of the season. It's anyone's match.

We saw Svitolina before the event. I wasn't sure, had no idea how she'd go, but she's been very successful here, played great.

Often it's the last few players who get in the Finals that have had success. Cibulkova, last year with Svitolina, then Wozniacki.

Look, I think it's anyone's, to be honest.

Q. You are an ambassador, a juniors tutor here for this event. Do you plan to be a coach for a professional player? Martina is coming here as a coach. Do you have a plan in the future?
ALICIA MOLIK: Well, I'm already involved as a coach. My title is Fed Cup captain, but it's a bit of a hybrid role as coach already. So I work with our Fed Cup team. I do 15 weeks with our Fed Cup team.

But down the track, yes, one day I would love to be a coach on tour. That would be my goal and dream. Reality is that can't happen now. I have two children. I think to coach, you at least need to be on the road 25, 30 weeks a year. That's a big time commitment.

But I think it would be a wonderful challenge. It's always something I've thought I would do. The timing needs to be right.

At the moment I love what I do at Fed Cup level. But I also have an interest in juniors, too, because I feel like young kids like to learn, want to learn, they listen all the time. They're not as stubborn with the way they believe tennis should be played or formed.

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