Australian Open qualifying has got under way at Melbourne Park this week, with 6 British women vying for places in the main singles draw at the first Grand Slam of the year, which starts next Monday.
Definitely, this is a very special place for me, a lot of great memories through the years, particularly last year [which] was really memorable and meaningful. Having that break, I think, was really significant and helpful for me. I feel like coming back now I have a stronger sense of who I am and my identity, and that shows when I'm playing on court. Rebecca Marino
Harriet Dart, Katie Boulter and Fran Jones were seeded 11, 27 and 29 respectively in a high quality field, but of the three, only Dart came through her opening round, beating Federica Di Sarra from Italy, 6-4 6-3, to set up a clash with American Alycia Parks, while Boulter lost to Emina Bektas, also from the USA, 6-3 6-4, and Jones retired against a third, Usue Maitane Arconada, with the score standing at 1-5 down.
Unseeded Katie Swan, however, was a 6-2 6-4 winner over Australian wild-card Abbie Myers and will meet the 5th seed Viktoriya Tomova from Bulgaria in round two.
Meanwhile, Samantha Murray Sharan was edged out by Hailey Baptiste from the US, 6-1 6-7(7) 7-6(8), and Jodie Burrage lost to another Aussie, Seone Mendez, 5-7 6-1 6-4, both in the first round.
Elsewhere, Canada’s Rebecca Marino was one of the first winners on the opening day following her 6-3 6-3 win over Switzerland’s Ylena In-Albon.
The World No 145, who reached her highest ranking of 38 more than a decade ago, continued her career revival, having spent more than 5 years away from the sport to address mental health and injury concerns.
Marino started her qualifying quest with good memories of last year, when her run through qualifying took her on to win her first Grand Slam main draw match in almost 10 years at Melbourne Park.
“Definitely, this is a very special place for me, a lot of great memories through the years, particularly last year [which] was really memorable and meaningful,” the 31-year-old said. “Having that break, I think, was really significant and helpful for me.
“I feel like coming back now I have a stronger sense of who I am and my identity, and that shows when I’m playing on court.
“There is a difference in confidence and happiness to my play, and it’s very freeing.”
The 24th seed meets a throwback opponent in 35-year-old Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko next, the player she warmed up with on Monday, and whom she beat first up at Roland Garros in 2011.
Women’s 4th seed Nina Stojanovic of Serbia was the first to advance on Monday, following her 6-1 6-2 result over Brazilian Laura Pigossi, while Australian wild-card Kimberly Birrell was the first to win on the new Kia Arena.
The 23-year-old Queenslander finished strongly to deny Russian Marina Melnikova, 7-6(0) 3-6 6-1, and will meet 22nd-seeded Georgian Ekaterine Gorgodze next.
Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva became an overnight sensation in Andorra following her extraordinary run to become a junior AO champion at the age of 14 in 2020, and she has returned to advance on Tuesday when she rallied from 0-3 down and reeled off 12 of the last 13 games to send Russia’s Anastasia Zakharova packing, 6-3 6-1.
She now must deny another Russian, Kamilla Rakhimova, to keep her main-draw hopes alive, following the 8th seed’s 6-2 6-3 win over Romanian Gabriela Lee.
“I’m still a few matches away, so it would be a dream come true but I’m focused on my next match. But yeah, it would be amazing to play in the main draw,” she grinned.
“A dream for me is to again play on Rod Laver Arena. I’m still very proud of how I managed to win that tournament.”
Having returned home following a South American stint, in which she collected her maiden ITF title in Brazil late last season, Jimenez Kasintseva spent the off-season back home in the icy depths of a winter in the Pyrenees.
“Whenever I go back to Andorra I feel like I’m having a little reset,” she said. “I am recognised back at home.
“A lot of people follow me and I get a lot of support from my country but people, even if they recognise me … it’s like a little village and I’m very lucky in this case because I’m not really annoyed by people but some do recognise me and they do congratulate me.”
Meanwhile, Aussie women are also writing history at AO qualifying, with Jaimee Fourlis among 7 Australians to advance to the second round with a 7-5 6-2 opening-round win against Spain’s Irene Burillo Escorihuela at Melbourne Park on Tuesday.
“It’s so good,” said the said 22-year-old. “It shows the depth of [Australian] women’s tennis is huge.
Fourlis credits World No 1 Ash Barty for setting an incredible example for her fellow Australian players.
“Ash leads by example,” Fourlis said. “I look up to Ash so much and anything she does, we all aspire to be.”
Fourlis’ victory was her first AO singles win since reaching the second round as a 17-year-old wild-card in 2017.
“It’s been really tough the past few years, having shoulder surgery and then not doing as well as I had hoped,” admitted the World No 327. “I’m super pumped with today’s win.
“There are a lot of people who deserve to be acknowledged – my physio, my coach, strength and conditioning, my family, my psychs. There are a lot of people behind this win, not just myself on the court.”
Zoe Hives was equally elated when she scored a 7-5 6-0 victory against China’s Han Xinyun, after the 25-year-old was sidelined with glandular fever and POTS since September 2019.
“Just to be out there and playing a match again was amazing,” said Hives, who was at a career-high ranking of No 140 when she was forced off tour.
“I don’t think that it’s sunk in yet that I won my first match back, but it means so much. I’ve put in so much work to get back.”
Adding to the positive momentum in Australian women’s tennis, 22-year-old Seone Mendez and 16-year-old Taylah Preston recorded their first Grand Slam-level wins, while other Aussie victors included No 30 seed Arina Rodionova, who enjoyed a convincing straight-sets win against Switzerland’s Susan Bandecchi, and Lizette Cabrera.
“Australian Open is my favourite time of the year,” beamed 24-year-old Cabrera after overcoming American Sachia Vickery in 3 sets.