Britain’s Francesca Jones scored an impressive win over the wily Monica Niculescu to reach the second round of qualifying for the Australian Open in Dubai.
Right now I just feel privileged to have a chance to compete and be healthy, and I think that I just really appreciate these things so much more right now. Ana Konjuh
The 20-year-old beat the Romanian 28th seed, who is a former top-30 player, 6-3 6-2, to set up a meeting with Croatia’s Jana Fett in her bid to reach the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time.
British No 3 Harriet Dart, 24, who reached the second round of the Australian Open in 2020, was beaten 7-5 6-2 by American Grace Min.
Former World No 20 Ana Konjuh, however, survived a dramatic opening match against Anna-Lena Friedsam to advance to the second round of AO 2021 qualifying.
Konjuh led 6-1 5-2 before Friedsam staged an impressive comeback to lead by a break in the third, only for the Croatian to win the final 3 games of the match to complete a 6-2 6-7(5) 6-4 triumph.
She joined former World No 5 Sara Errani, 7th seed Timea Babos and recent US Open quarter-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round.
After a nightmare run with injury that resulted in 4 elbow surgeries, Konjuh was appearing at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since Wimbledon 2018.
A year earlier, she had reached the 4th round at the All England Club, a year on from her US Open 2016 quarter-final run.
Now ranked No 476, the 23-year-old took another step on Sunday on her path back to the top 20, which she cracked in July 2017.
“It’s been awesome [playing again], to be honest,” Konjuh said. “I wasn’t sure that I would be here, actually.
“I got a wildcard – thanks to Craig [Tiley] and his team for giving me a chance to compete again. It feels great.
“I was out for more than a year and half, so just getting back on the court was a big step for me.
“Definitely [my perspective has changed]. They say I’m still young, but I don’t feel like that at all,” she added with a laugh.
“I’ve been through so much the last couple of years and been to the top level, I know what it feels like. And to have to go through all of the steps again to get there, it’s hard, it’s frustrating.
“Right now I just feel privileged to have a chance to compete and be healthy, and I think that I just really appreciate these things so much more right now.”
Konjuh admitted to some nerves when trying to close Friedsam out in the second set; twice she served for the match before Friedsam, herself a former World No 45 who has endured multiple surgeries, stormed back into the match.
Yet Konjuh managed to remain the calmer and more consistent player in the final stanza, setting up a second-round clash against Turkey’s Cagla Buyukakcay.
“Right now I just feel privileged to have a chance to compete and be healthy. I just really appreciate these things so much more right now,” Konjuh added. “It would mean a lot [to qualify],
“I didn’t even imagine myself having this chance right now, so I would really love to go through the qualies and to have a chance to be back with the top players again.”
Errani survived a three-set tussle to defeat Chinese Taipei’s En Shuo Liang, while Babos beat Marina Melnikova of Russia, 6-3 6-3.
“I actually wanted to play qualies for Australian Open, as I didn’t have enough matches (from) the past year, I felt like it would be a good opportunity for me to play qualies,” Babos laughed. “But I was not expecting that I was going to play it in Dubai.
“I’m happy to be back on court and compete again, that’s the most important. The first step is done, two more to go.”
Later on Sunday, Pironkova routed Kyoka Okamura of Japan, 6-0 6-1, and has now won 7 of her past 9 matches.
The World No 136 will play Korean Na-Lae Han for a place in the final round of qualifying.
In other results, 20th seed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova beat Usue Arconada in a final-set tiebreak, Americans Sachia Vickery and Hailey Baptiste advanced, French rising star Clara Burel won 6-4 6-0 over Eva Guerrero Alvarez, No 2 seed Oceane Dodin was ousted, and Spain’s Georgina Garcia Perez double-bagelled Anastasia Zakharova.