Britain’s No 3 Harriet Dart secured her 5th Grand Slam qualification after beating Australian wild-card Kimberly Birrell, 6-3 6-3, in Melbourne on Friday, and she now joins Emma Raducanu and Heather Watson in the women’s singles draw at the Australian Open next week.
“I’m just super happy and pleased to be through,” she said. “I always knew it was going to be a really tough match.
“Kimberly and I are good friends and practised a lot together, but never played against each other.
“It is never going to be an easy match when you’re playing for a spot in the main draw.”
Dart played at Melbourne Park last week in the AO warm-up event, winning two qualifying round matches before losing in the first round to former US Open finalist Madison Keys.
“I benefitted from playing last week, getting three matches in under these conditions,” she said. “I guess I’ve got the experience of coming through twice here before so I definitely think that helped me today.”
Ranked 125, Dart hopes to put qualifying behind her by improving her ranking to guarantee direct entry in future.
After making it through the rigours of 3 rounds of qualifying at Melbourne Park for the 3rd time in 4 years, the 25-year old has also successfully gone the distance twice at the US Open.
“It shows I need to be not in qualifying any more and try to put myself in a position where I can be directly in, because playing three matches against good players is never easy,” she reflected with a smile.
Dart, who dropped just one set during her qualifying campaign, saw off Italy’s Federica Di Sarra and Alycia Parks of American earlier in the week, before winning her decider against Birrell in an hour 47 minutes.
The 23-year old Australian is ranked 664 and was contesting only her second pro tournament in more than 10 months after being sidelined with a right elbow injury.
After a delayed start due to rain in the morning, they traded breaks in the opening 3 games on Court 3, but it was Dart who held first, moving ahead 3-1, when Birrell quickly bounced back, winning the next 2 games to level.
Both players wrested for control with some exceptional shot-making and lengthy rallies in an entertaining 47-minute opening set, striking 9 winners each, but Birrell’s 18 unforced errors proved costly compared to Dart’s 11.
This helped the No 11 seed capture the final 3 games and take a one-set lead.
A determined Birrell fought back early in the second, breaking in both the 3rd and 5th games but, each time, was unable to consolidate as Dart’s confidence grew, and the 25-year-old Brit reeled off 4 consecutive games to seal the win.
Despite the loss, Birrell took positives from a career-best run in a Grand Slam qualifying draw.
“I think I’ve had a really great week considering all of the adversity I went through last year,” the former world No.154 said. “To even step out on the court and play one match was amazing.
“To get to play three, I’m super proud of myself and the way that I’ve performed.
“I’ll definitely take a lot of positives out of my last two matches and even today, even though the result didn’t go my way, hopefully this has set me up for a really positive year.”
Both Dart and Birrell struggled to hold serve, with the Aussie managing it just twice in the match, but the Brit battled well, twice coming from a break down in the second set.
Dart, who has begun working with Britain’s Dave Collins after being guided predominantly by Eastern European coaches, won 25 of 38 first-serve points to Birrell’s 14 of 35, while saving 5 of 9 break points to her opponents’ 6 of 13, finishing with 26 unforced errors compared to the Australian’s 36, and winning 60 per cent of first return points to just 34 per cent.
She now joins the British contingent in the main draw alongside Raducanu, Watson, Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans and Andy Murray.
With Covid rates rising sharply in Melbourne, Dart, who hails from Hampstead in London, has been playing it safe and sticking to take-aways in her hotel room from her favourite fish restaurant, Hunky Dory.
“It’s definitely still quite challenging” she admitted. “My main concern is more I don’t want to test positive to then be stuck here and then not be able to get home.
“I’m just being as careful as possible.”
Elsewhere, Canadian Rebecca Marino qualified for her second straight AO main draw with a 4-6 6-2 7-6(7) win over Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia.
Rakhimova broke Marino early in the first set, but the 31-year-old from Vancouver used her powerful serve to stage a come-back, firing 24 aces across the match.
Marino, currently 146 in the WTA rankings, dominated across the second set, winning all 3 available break points before taking a back-and-forth decider in the tiebreak.
A former World No 38, Marino stunned many in Montreal in August, gutting out several upset wins before losing to top seed Aryna Sabalenka in the third round.
Meanwhile, Martina Trevisan came through qualifying for a second time at Melbourne Park on Friday, having done so two years ago to secure her Grand Slam main draw debut on her 10th attempt.
The Italian ran into eventual champion Sofia Kenin at the first hurdle in 2020, and her run through qualifying to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros later that year only fuelled her belief she was up to the task again.
“You see the main draw but you’re still in qualies, so it’s not easy to play with this emotion,” the 2nd seed said after her 6-2 6-3 victory over Belarusian Olga Govortsova. “But year after year I’m collecting a lot of experience, so today I felt that I was ready to play with a lot of energy.
“As Roland Garros showed me, playing qualies is not a problem because in 2020 I started from the qualies so in the first moment, maybe I was little bit worried but I worked on it with my team.
“When I came here I was happy to play qualies, because sometimes playing more matches, it could help a lot.”
Trevisan’s unexpected charge through the draw in Paris included wins over Coco Gauff, Maria Sakkari and Kiki Bertens and shone a light on her remarkable journey through adversity as the 28-year-old had missed 4 years on tour, from 2010-14, when she took time out to address an eating disorder.
“Life sometimes can be very tough, and I think everybody has problems in their life, but I think the key is to never give up,” Trevisan said.
“Try to work on yourself, because I think it’s the only way that you can find the positive things again. If you work, thinking of yourself, you can see again the light.”
Trevisan’s compatriot, Lucia Bronzetti, also wrapped up a main-draw berth after her 4-6 6-2 6-1 win over Japan’s Nao Hibino, while 5th-seeded Bulgarian Viktoriya Tomova easily accounted for Romanian Irina Maria Bara, 6-2 6-1.
Elsewhere, American 20-year-olds Katie Volynets and Hailey Baptiste qualified alongside compatriots Emina Bektas and Caroline Dolehide, while Ukrainian former World No 23 Lesia Tsurenko landed an 11th Australian Open main draw start with a 6-4 6-0 win over Russian Elina Avanesyan.
Swiss Stefanie Voegele and South Korean Jan Su Jeong also booked main draw berths as did China’s Zheng Qinwen, who backed up her Melbourne Summer Set semi-final run last week to deny Japan’s Mai Hontama, while Slovakian Viktoria Kuzmova, Dutchwoman Arianne Hartono and Spaniard Cristina Bucsa secured the remaining spots.