There has long been a suspicion that Casey Dellacqua was never really convinced she was quite good enough. Past criticism over her conditioning cut deeply, and a shoulder reconstruction, then foot surgery stalled the momentum she had managed to build on her happy way to a place in the top 40.
Now, at 28, and ranked 120th, Dellacqua is about to return to double figures, and is also back in a grand slam fourth round for the first time in what she calls her second career. She doubted she would be back, but now is. Welcome.
''I guess when you work hard each day you hope that you can be,'' Dellacqua said. ''It feels great to be back here. Obviously, I made the fourth round here in '08. I definitely feel like a different person, different player at this point in my career. Feeling, yeah, like, you know, just rewarded for all the work I've done pretty much. I just think [it's] maturity … growing up. When I made it in '08, it was such a whirlwind. It was like a bit unexpected, it was, 'Whoa'. I didn't get much time to take much of it in. I was also struggling with injury. The year was a bit crazy … Definitely feel like a better player, tennis wise, now than probably back in '08.''
How fondly Australia remembers that last time: six years ago, when Target clambered aboard the unsponsored Monaro-coveting bandwagon of the artless everywoman from suburban Perth as nan Bev cheered from the stands with Aussie flags in her hair. Then came the injury setbacks. Next, the hard work. Now, the reward: a last-16 showdown with rising Canadian star and 30th seed Eugenie Bouchard, and a cheque for at least $135,000.
To get there meant getting past heat-affected former semi-finalist Zheng Jie, 6-2, 6-4, the Chinese player needing a medical timeout and her blood pressure monitored while ice was rubbed on her legs on a scalding Rod Laver Arena. Heat? Puh. This is solar-powered Casey. ''I felt really good out there. When I saw her laying down, I thought 'OK, she's struggling, this is good. I mean, that's what you kind of want to see with your opponents. You're always looking on the other side of the court to see even if they're getting angry. That's what you look for. You kind of feel like, 'hey, I've got them'.
''Yeah, the heat was great. I love it. It makes my body feel good, too, the heat, the warm. Yeah, I really enjoyed it out there. Yeah, it would be nice if it would be a bit hotter for the next week. I'm sure everyone else will be over it.''
So, shame about the cooler forecast, but not the future, and Dellacqua is 28 and a mother now, fitter than she has ever been and also match-honed after some late-year Challenger successes and then a win at the Open's wildcard playoff that Shannon Nettle, her coach since mid-2013, decided she would train all the way through.
''The conditions didn't worry her, at all,'' said Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik, who broke off mid-interview to share a warm embrace with a beaming Dellacqua as the West Australian dashed past on her way to the locker-room. ''So I think that's one thing all the Australian women have behind them. They've been used to the conditions, training in it - Casey, I think, played the largest number of matches in volume over the last two months, and I'm sure she's drawing on a lot of that.''
Fitness gains aside, Molik rates a more patient approach as Dellacqua's greatest improvement, while her second-round upset of Belgian 18th seed and Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens counts as her highest-ranked scalp so far.
''From my perspective, it's that she's taking her time, doing the simple things, and I just think she feels very comfortable within her own game now, aware of her strengths, using them all at the right time, and waiting to use them at the right time as well.''
Personal contentment extends to the birth of baby Blake with partner Amanda Judd in August. Nan Bev, too, is back at Melbourne Park, and threatening to mist up in the stands, just as her former doubles partner Rennae Stubbs warned an ecstatic Dellacqua against doing in a courtside interview, for there is still much to be done.
Specifically, that means Bouchard. It was telling, actually, when discussing Bouchard that Dellacqua made the routine mention of what a good player she is, that she's on the rise, etc. But then, after the ''she's playing some really great tennis'' declaration, and after the merest pause, Dellacqua added ''but so am I''.
Perhaps she was trying to convince herself. Or, maybe, this second fine Australian Open run is proof enough.
Dellacqua is possibly also a tiny bit more confident.
''We can all see how tough tennis is mentally,'' Dellacqua admits. ''I think sometimes it's the difference. I think I have a lot more self-belief. That probably comes from doing the hard work off the court, to be able to take that into matches, knowing I've done the work. I deserve my spot, I deserve to be playing in these matches.''