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Hantuchova rehires Sears
Matthew Cronin | March 10, 2004 11:29 IST
Two years after she came to the world's attention by shocking Justine Henin-Hardenne and Martina Hingis to win the Pacific Life Open title, Daniela Hantuchova enters this week's tournament as the number 24 seed and is flying well under the radar screen.
But the slender 20-year-old from the Slovak Republic says she is refreshed and has a new perspective on her career.
The one-time top-five player recently rehired Britain's Nigel Sears as her coach and says that she has put last year's slump and emotional chaos behind her.
"After I got back from Paris Indoors (three weeks ago) and I was sick, I thought about it a lot and I realised I had a great team around me," Hantuchova told Reuters.
"It made me put things in perspective and I saw things I didn't see and appreciate last year. I wanted to get back to the people I trust. And I trust Nigel."
After reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals in January 2003, Hantuchova rose to a career high number five in the rankings.
But she then went into free fall, only gaining two quarter-finals the rest of the year and suffering debilitating early round losses at the grand slams, including a tearful three-set loss to Shinobu Asagoe at Wimbledon.
She was unable to beat a player ranked higher than her and scored only two top-20 wins all year.
"The biggest difference between 2002 and 2003 was that in 2002 I won the really close matches and in 2003, I lost them," she said.
"As soon as I started to lose more matches, I stopped believing in myself. No matter how difficult it got, I should have just trusted my game and not questioned it."
An all-court player with tremendous variety and a ballerina's movement, the 1.81-metre, rail-thin Hantuchova also collapsed under the pressure of going from being one of her sport's highly-publicised sex symbols to a gaunt poster girl for malnutrition.
"The most important thing is how you deal with it," Hantuchova said.
"Last year made me not only stronger as a person, but as a player too. And I realised that I'm responsible for everything I do on court and off."
Hantuchova let go of Sears in the second half of last year and developed a shoulder injury, which cut down on her off-season training. She hired respected coach Harold Solomon, who once tutored Jennifer Capriati and Anna Kournikova.
This year, she lost in the second round of the Australian Open to Alicia Molik, but in Tokyo got revenge on the Australian and then upset Russian teen Maria Sharapova before catching a virus and falling to Lindsay Davenport.
She parted ways with Solomon, saying they just did not click. While lying in bed back at home in Bratislava, she realised it was time to call Sears and right her ship again.
"I thought about all the things happening around me and I decided that I wanted to start the year again here at Indian Wells and give it everything I can," Hantuchova said.
"In a way I have to accept where I am at the moment, but I won't give into that too much. I do think I belong in the top 10 and even the top five, but I have to prove to myself in the matches that I can do it."