Melbourne, Australia , 17 January 2023 | Leigh Rogers

Kimberly Birrell created history at Australian Open 2022, winning the first competitive match ever played at Kia Arena. And her return to that court this year, proved even sweeter.

The 24-year-old Aussie wildcard recorded a hard-fought 3-6 7-6(4) 6-1 victory against No.31 seed Kaia Kanepi in an opening-round singles showdown at Kia Arena today.

“I’m doing what I absolutely love and not many people get to wake up and live their dream,” an emotional Birrell declared after the match.

It is Birrell’s first Grand Slam main-draw win in four years and her fourth career top-50 victory.

“She’s a quality player and I knew how deep she’s gone in Slams,” Birrell said after defeating Kanepi, a seven-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist.

“I’m so happy that I won today and I get to play again.”

The promising Aussie made the third round at AO 2019 and achieved a career-high ranking of No.154 a few months later, before injury threatened her career. She has since bravely bounced back from two elbow surgeries.

Birrell returned at last year’s Australian Open, reaching the final round in qualifying as a world No.669-ranked wildcard. She admitted at the time she was “so grateful” to even be playing again after a challenging couple of years.

“No matter how resilient you are, rehab is really tough when you’ve been doing it for a year and a half,” Birrell said. “There were times when I wanted to give up, but I’m really glad that I didn’t.”

A resurgent Birrell soared back into the world’s top 200 last season after reaching three ITF finals.

She was preparing to play qualifying at Australian Open 2023, when she learned she had received a main-draw wildcard following Venus Williams’ injury withdrawal.

“I was not expecting it at all. I cried like a baby, and it was such a nice moment,” Birrell said.

Determined to make the most of the opportunity, Birrell’s incredible grit was on show today against the 37-year-old Kanepi.

The world No.29-ranked Estonian, an Australian Open 2022 quarterfinalist, served for the match leading 6-3 5-4, but Birrell managed to fight her way back into the contest.

After securing a high-pressure second-set tiebreak, Birrell won 16 of the first 19 points in the deciding set to race to a 4-0 lead.

“I felt a lot of energy from the crowd when I won the second set, and I really had to remind myself that there’s a long way to go. I tried to centre myself and then just take it one point at a time,” Birrell said.

From there, the Gold Coast athlete closed out one of the biggest – and emotional – wins of her career after two hours and 32 minutes on court.

“I feel so happy to be back playing at this level at a Slam again,” Birrell beamed.

Birrell now faces Czech teen sensation Linda Fruhvirtova, who recorded a 6-0 6-4 win against Australia’s Jaimee Fourlis today. The 17-year-old Fruhvirtova is currently ranked No.82 and is the youngest player inside the world’s top 100.

Birrell and Fourlis were among nine Australians scheduled to compete on day two at Melbourne Park.

AUSSIES IN ACTION – Australian Open

Women’s singles, first round
[WC] Kimberly Birrell (AUS) d [31] Kaia Kanepi (EST) 3-6 7-6(4) 6-1
Linda Fruhvirtova (CZE) d [WC] Jaimee Fourlis (AUS) 6-0 6-4

Men’s singles, first round
[22] Alex de Minaur (AUS) d Yu Hsiou Hsu (TPE) 6-2 6-2 6-3
[WC] Alexei Popyrin (AUS) d Chun-Hsin Tseng (TPE) 4-6 7-6(5) 6-7(5) 7-6(4) 6-1
J.J. Wolf (USA) d Jordan Thompson (AUS) 6-3 3-6 6-4 7-5
Jenson Brooksby (USA) d Chris O’Connell (AUS) 3-6 6-2 6-3 6-2

Men’s singles, first round
Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS) v Fabio Fognini (ITA) 6-1 6-2 4-2 to finish
[Q] Aleksandar Vukic (AUS) v [Q] Brandon Holt (USA) 4-6 6-1 2-4 to finish
[Q] Max Purcell (AUS) v Emil Ruusuvuori (FIN) 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-6 to finish

Women’s singles, second round
[WC] Kimberly Birrell (AUS)
v Linda Fruhvirtova (CZE) 
[WC] Olivia Gadecki (AUS)
 v Marta Kostyuk (UKR)

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

> READ: Australian Open doubles draws revealed

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