As the seeds keep tumbling down at 2019 Australian Open, the women’s singles draw is starting to take its shape. As expected, the tournament favorites Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, and Aryna Sabalenka are still in contention to claim the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup. While the prize will be on offer on final Saturday, it is what will happen between now and the end of next week which will be of great interest, especially for the Australian faithful.
By the start of play in the evening session on Rod Laver Arena on Friday, young Kimberly Birrell could be the sole Australian woman remaining in the singles draw. Birrell is now the lowest ranked player in the draw and ironically, her ranking of No. 240 is her highest ever in her burgeoning career. The unheralded wild card will be cheered on by an expectant crowd and her family who are in Melbourne as she aims another major scalp in the shape of three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber. She is also anticipating a few more friends from Gold Coast to join her entourage.
The 20-year-old is bound to be nervous as she was when she stunned 29th seed Donna Vekic in the second round. Shortly after claiming one of the biggest wins of her career, Birrell was asked whether she was indeed nervous while serving at 5-1 for a place in third round and candidly replied, “100 percent. Definitely.”
“There were so many things going through my head. I just had to bring myself back to the present and focus on getting my first serve in and I was able to do that.”
She added, “I’m so proud to be an Aussie and representing my country and I’m so grateful for this opportunity and I hope I can do everyone proud.”
At just the age of 20, where it would seem like a tennis player’s career is set to take off and make imprints, it has not been the case for the Gold Coast native. Judging by her career experiences and recent achievements, Birrell had to start her career from scratch. She underwent elbow surgery just two years ago, which delayed her progress on the main tour. Having played a series of ITF events ever since, she won the Australian Open Wildcard Play-off in December to earn her spot in the main draw of a Grand Slam for just the second time in her career. That victory was the catalyst of a series of brilliant results to start 2019. Birrell recorded her biggest win ranking-wise when she stunned World No. 10 Daria Kasatkina in Brisbane. But it was in the second round of the Australian Open when she got her big breakthrough. She knocked out Donna Vekic in three sets and is guaranteed a massive surge in the rankings to No. 160. She says of the 150,000 prize money, which is the least she would walk away with, “Maybe I can buy myself a car now.”
Hailing from the same tennis centre in Southport as Samantha Stosur and Bernard Tomic, Birrell grew up idolizing Stosur and has fond memories from watching the 2011 US Open final. For now, at least, Birrell has the freedom of living the dream. This is her second appearance in the main draw of Grand Slam and on her meeting with Kerber, she says anything is possible in tennis. It would certainly take a monumental effort from the young Aussie to spring a surprise which in broader terms could potentially thrust her name in the second week of Australian Open, something her idol Stosur managed only twice in 17 attempts.
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