Teen mixes with the best at Australian Open

TIM BARTON
Last updated 10:00 13/02/2013

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Bridget Liddell has played in a Grand Slam tournament and has the photos to prove it.

The Queen Margaret College year 13 pupil made the main draw for the girls' junior singles at the Australian Open in Melbourne last month.

Few Kiwi players get the chance to take part in a Grand Slam tournament and mix with the world's elite players.

Liddell found that her first-round game, which she lost, went by in something of a blur, but she ranked the tournament as a career high point.

"I didn't play very well but it was a great experience, really amazing."

Liddell was also able to get photos of herself with women's top seed and champion Victoria Azarenka and men's legend Roger Federer.

"That was pretty cool."

However, the 17-year-old admitted she was affected by nerves in her 6-1, 6-1 loss to Japanese player Mami Adachi, who was ranked more than 250 places higher in the world junior rankings.

"It was such a big opportunity but so overwhelming, with the huge crowd, the ball boys and umpires.

"There were 80,000 in the park that day and the people who couldn't get into the show courts were watching at the back courts [where we were playing].

"We hardly have any people watching us normally and it threw me a bit. I tried not to look at the crowd but I came off the court still shaking.

"Five minutes afterwards, I realised I'd just blown a big opportunity."

However, Liddell, who has a world ranking of 330, after being at 844 12 months ago, has no doubt that she benefited from the experience and is more aware of the standard she has to reach.

"The top [junior] girls were giants and hit the ball so hard. They also make a lot of balls and were pretty amazing."

The two other New Zealand girls who contested the junior singles in Melbourne - Emily Fanning and Paige Hourigan - also went out in the opening round.

Liddell had to go through qualifying play to make the main draw.

She won her first qualifying match but thought she was out of contention after losing her second match.

"You needed to win both rounds but I got in after being chosen by ballot as one of two lucky losers from the second round."

Liddell had also been hampered by an interrupted preparation for the Australian Open, after being troubled by a foot injury since August.

"I've got flat feet and have had bone stress in an ankle and foot. I've got it right now but it came back later in the year and I've had about 12 weeks off since August.

"It threw my game off a bit and I lost a lot of confidence with my forehand, which has been one of my strengths. My serve and forehand has always got me through."

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As a result, Liddell has had mixed fortunes over the summer.

She was the third seed for the national under-18 tournament but lost in the quarterfinals, though she and regular doubles partner Sade Atkinson reached the doubles final, before going down to the top-seeded combination of Hourigan and Kelly Drew.

Liddell played below her best in the junior ITF tournament in Auckland at the start of this month but showed improved form at the Tennis Central under-18 tournament, a grade four ITF event, in Wellington last week.

She lost to a Japanese opponent in the quarterfinal of the singles - "she got so many balls back, she could retrieve anything" - but reached the doubles final with Atkinson.

Liddell and Atkinson, who beat the top seeds to make the final, lost the first set 6-2, against a combination from New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea, but took the second 6-1 before losing the deciding tiebreak 10-7.

Liddell and Atkinson, who is based in Wairarapa, have now made four finals at ITF tournaments, winning once. "Sade is an amazing doubles player and we play well together," Liddell said.

Liddell, who believes her 2012 form peaked when she won the special plate at the Oceania Closed Championships in Fiji in August - "that basically meant I finished ninth" - will concentrate on training, rather than tournament play, for the next couple of months.

"I will focus on school for the rest of the term and train hard for seven weeks, and may head overseas again after that.

"I want to find some form. I'm quite a way off my best and it will take a while to get back to where I was."

In the longer term, Liddell hopes to gain a college scholarship in the United States, beginning in August 2014.

Contact Tim Barton
Racing editor and college sport writer
Email: tim.barton@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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