Aiava holds nerve to reach final qualifying round
Destanee Aiava seals her place in the final round of Australian Open qualifying after Storm Sanders begins the day with a thumping first-round win.
Destanee Aiava kept her hopes alive of reaching the Australian Open main draw with a dramatic 6-1 6-7(3) 6-4 win over 16th seed Varvara Flink to move into the final qualifying round in Melbourne Park.
As darkness fell over Court 8, the 19-year-old, ranked 266th in the world, looked to have missed her chance when she failed to serve out the match at the first time of asking when leading 6-1 5-3, before losing the second set in a tiebreak.
However, Aiava rebounded strongly in the decider, striking out to a 3-0 lead, and once more had the match on her racket when she served for victory at 5-3. However, again nerves took hold, and after four match points came and went, the Russian broke back.
Amid almost unbearable tension and shouts of ‘come on Destanee!’ from the crowd, Aiava carved out a fifth match point, this time on the Flink serve, finally clinching victory as the Russian’s forehand drifted long.
Earlier in the day, Storm Sanders continued her remarkable return to professional tennis after easing into round two of Australian Open qualifying.
She scored a 6-2 6-0 win over American Robin Anderson in a match held over from Wednesday.
The 25-year-old only returned to competition in October after two years away from the game with a long-term shoulder injury, but won an ITF title in Playford in just her second tournament back before making the Australian Open Play-off final last month.
Out on a breezy Court 8, the left-hander raced to victory against the diminutive Anderson who seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the occasion on her first appearance at Melbourne Park.
From 1-1 in the first set, Sanders won eleven of the final 12 games, controlling the match with her swinging serve and accurate volleying.
“It feels pretty crazy to be honest,” said a delighted Sanders, who pointed out it was her first ever singles win at the Australian Open, having previously lost in the first round of qualifying on two occasions and first round of the main draw three times.
“When I was injured last year, I didn’t think I would be back playing singles at all, or even just playing tennis. So to be back and win my first round, it’s pretty exciting and I’m pretty happy with that.”
Sanders credited her performance with a newly changed mindset on court. “I think in the past, playing qualies or main draw singles here I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said.
“Being Australian, you want to do well but today I just came out there and wanted to enjoy it. I think just having a long-term injury puts everything in perspective and just made me realise how much I want to be out there playing, and I’m pretty lucky to be doing this for a living.
“I think I’ve definitely grown and matured as a player.”
Meanwhile there were a couple of near misses for Kaylah McPhee and Jaimee Fourlis in other matches held over from Wednesday.
McPhee harried and hustled 13th seed Greet Minnen, and roared on by her noisy support group, she won the opening seven points following the resumption.
However as Minnen settled her greater weight of shot began to tell, and the Belgian ultimately ran out a 6-3 2-6 6-3 winner.
There was also disappointment for Fourlis who continued at one set all against the tall, rangy Fang-Xing Yun from China.
In a titanic slugfest between two players with powerful forehands, Yun proved the slightly more consistent as she clinched a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4 win.
Maddison Inglis’ hopes of making the main draw also came to an end as she was outclassed by a determined Eugenie Bouchard 6-3 6-1 on Court 3.
Inglis, seeded 21st in qualifying, went into the match with high hopes after Bouchard’s unconvincing first round display which saw her require nearly three hours to see off Xiaodi You.
But this was a looser, fresher and more focused Bouchard; from 2-0 down in the first set, the Canadian won five games in a row, showing glimpses of the kind of tennis which took her to the semifinals six years ago, and Inglis never regained a foothold in the match.
In other results, Belinda Woolcock fell in the second round to No.1 seed Ana Bogdan while Olivia Rogowska went down 6-4 6-2 to Nuria Parrizas Diaz in round one.