Rain affords Dulko time to reflect

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 January, 2010, 12:00am

When Argentine Juan Martin del Potro stunned Roger Federer to win last year's US Open, he went on a tour of American TV chat shows saying that, as happy as he was with the personal glory, he hoped his achievement would spark interest in the game back home in South America.

His nation hailed the victory, with sports daily Ole bringing to mind perhaps the country's greatest ever sportsman by declaring 'Del Potro is Maradona. He is the joy we had been waiting for'.

It was a remarkable effort, defeating the player many say is the greatest the game has known and it put Del Potro alongside the legendary Guillermo Vilas as the second Argentine to win the Open.

While Del Potro has provided an inspiration for his countrymen, on the other side of the court, things are looking a little different.

There are nine Argentine men in the world's top 100, but on the women's side things are not looking so pretty.

As the 36th ranked player in the world, Argentine Gisela Dulko (pictured) is not only South America's number one, she is South America's only one.

While the rain poured down at Victoria Park last night, disrupting the Hong Kong Classic, she took time to reflect on how life on the circuit can look far away from the grand slam glamour.

'I'm the only Argentine woman on tour,' said Dulko. 'For women, the game is still not very popular and I am still the only one. There are still not many girls playing and for the men there are a lot more. But I am always hoping that the girls will take some notice and start playing so I can join them on tour and we can all travel together.'

Dulko puts the lack of a South American presence on the female tour down to a number of factors, chief among them economics. There's little to no government support for women's tennis, she says, and that means most young women simply cannot afford to play the game.

'For young players in Argentina, for example, it is just too expensive for the young players to get out of the country and go to the United States or to Europe to learn how to play the game,' she said. 'The economy is not very good and this is a very individual sport, so it can be tough.''

Dulko, who turns 25 on January 30, first made her mark as a junior player, winning doubles titles at the US Open in 2000, Wimbledon in 2001 and the Australian Open in 2002. She was able to pay for her own fledgling career thanks to family support and the sponsors who came calling after her success as a teenager.

And Dulko says she is hoping her play around the world will now help show other young South American women that life as a tennis player is not only possible, it can be rewarding.

Dulko has a career-high ranking of 26 in the world and has picked up three singles titles on the WTA Tour, plus eight when she turned her hand to doubles.

After helping Team Americas to victory at this event in Hong Kong last year, Dulko experienced some personal highs during 2009, chief among which was a victory over former world number one Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon. 'It was great to come last year,' she said. 'To play against some of the best players and to win some of my matches. It was a great preparation for me and I hope I can go on and improve this year.'

And, she hopes, down there in South America, there'll be a whole lot of people watching if she does.