Melbourne, Australia , 16 January 2023 | Vivienne Christie

When Jason Kubler made his Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open in 2010, the then-16-year-old is unlikely to have imagined it would take 13 years to claim a main-draw win at his home Grand Slam.

With a straight-sets win over Sebastian Baez, the 29-year-old local not only claimed that long-awaited breakthrough but wrote another significant chapter in his comeback story after some well-documented struggles with injury.

“It’s definitely been a long time,” said Kubler, following a 6-4 6-4 6-4 win over Baez, who at world No.44 is ranked 40 places higher than the Australian.

Since that first Australian Open match 13 years ago, when No.24 seed Ivan Ljubicic was the straight-sets winner, Kubler has contested the Australian Open main draw twice – most recently in 2019, when he claimed a set from Thomas Fabbiano, but failed to progress to the second round.

On the back of a career-best season in 2022, when Kubler qualified and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, the Queenslander was awarded a wildcard into the main draw of the Australian Open. It ensured he bypassed the challenge of qualifying, where he had faltered it the past three years.

“I’m proud of myself. I wasn’t sure last year if I’d be in this sort of situation,” said Kubler, who also won matches at Roland Garros and the US Open.

“It’s kind of cool now just almost the last four Grand Slams that I’ve been able to win a match in main draw. If anything, I’m more proud of that, but also to be able to play in front of the Australian crowd. I haven’t really had the opportunity to do that.”

After a sizzling start to 2023, which featured three straight match wins over higher-ranked opponents (Dan Evans and Albert Ramos-Vinola at the United Cup; Tomas Martin Etcheverry in Adelaide), Kubler arrived in Melbourne with a career-high world No.84 ranking.

He was also high on confidence from the outset of his first-round encounter with Baez.

With a service break achieved in the third game of the first set, Kubler didn’t allow the Argentine an opening. Helped by four aces and nine winners in total, the dialled-in Australian maintained his lead, calmly serving out the set in 42 minutes.

The second set followed an almost identical pattern, Kubler retaining control as he broke early to take a 3-1 lead. But serving it out wasn’t quite so straightforward, the Australian registering his first double fault of the match and providing Baez with a pair of break point opportunities with untimely forehand errors.

But Kubler withstood the challenge to take a two-set lead, to the delight of the supportive John Cain Arena audience, which included Australian Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt, and Australian coaching legend Tony Roche.

He drew on that crowd energy as Baez raised his level in the third set. As Kubler’s own service games were extended, he struggled to find an opening – but after at last seizing a service break, he quickly capitalised, serving out the win in an efficient manner.

“There were definitely some nerves … it’s the first time I’ve won here in singles, so a few nerves but also he’s a great opponent, a great player,” Kubler admitted.

“But I was able to pull it together and win those important points (and) luckily I was able to serve quite well.”

Indeed, an 85 per cent first serve success rate was an obvious advantage, as were Kubler’s 19 total winners.

The accomplished performance sets a second-round match with No.18 seed Karen Khachanov, a straight-sets winner over Bernabe Zapate Miralles at Melbourne Park today.

Kubler relishes the opportunity against another higher-ranked opponent.

“I’m super excited. He’s a great player. Hopefully we can play on one of these courts again,” he smiled.

“Now that I’m getting a tiny bit older in the tennis world, I want to play on these courts, I want to play in front of so many people. Knowing that I’m going to play him next just means I get to play in front of all you guys again, so I’m super pumped.”

Earlier, fellow Australian Olivia Gadecki made her Australian Open debut a memorable one as she defeated qualifier Polina Kudermetova in straight sets.

The 20-year-old from Queensland now faces Marta Kostyuk, who eliminated Amanda Anisimova, the tournament’s No.28 seed.

> READ: Gadecki powers into second round at AO 2023

AUSSIES IN ACTION – Australian Open

Men’s singles, first round
[WC] Rinky Hijikata (AUS) d [Q] Yannick Hanfmann (GER) 4-6 4-6 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3
[WC] Jason Kubler (AUS)
d Sebastian Baez (ARG) 6-4 6-4 6-4
[WC] John Millman (AUS) d Marc-Andrea Huesler (SUI) 6-7(8) 7-5 6-7(2) 6-2 6-3

> READ: Hijikata stages incredible comeback victory

Women’s singles, first round
[WC] Olivia Gadecki (AUS) d [Q] Polina Kudermetova 7-5 6-1
Wang Xinyu (CHN) d [WC] Storm Hunter (AUS) 7-6(2) 6-4
[Q] Clara Burel (FRA) d [WC] Talia Gibson (AUS) 6-3 6-4

Men’s singles, first round
[22] Alex de Minaur (AUS) v Yu Hsiou Hsu (TPE)
Chris O’Connell (AUS) v Jenson Brooksby (USA)
Jordan Thompson (AUS) v J.J. Wolf (USA)
Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) v Fabio Fognini (ITA)
[Q] Aleksandar Vukic (AUS) v [Q] Brandon Holt (USA)
[Q] Max Purcell (AUS) v Emil Ruusuvuori (FIN)
[WC] Alexei Popyrin (AUS) v Chun-Hsin Tseng (TPE)

Men’s singles, second round
[WC] Rinky Hijikata (AUS) v [3] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)
[WC] Jason Kubler (AUS)
v [18] Karen Khachanov
[WC] John Millman (AUS) v [7] Daniil Medvedev

Women’s singles, first round
[WC] Jaimee Fourlis (AUS) v Linda Fruhvirtova (CZE)
[WC] Kimberly Birrell (AUS) v [31] Kaia Kanepi (EST)

Women’s singles, second round
[WC] Olivia Gadecki (AUS) v Marta Kostyuk (UKR)

> READ: Australian Open doubles draws revealed

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