Daria Gavrilova - the local hope who blazed a trail through the 2016 Australian Open
Unseeded at the Australian Open, Russian-born Australian player Daria Gavrilova is somewhat of a giant slayer. She progressed to the 4th round of the Australian Open – her highest ever finish at a Grand Slam, beating some very experienced players along the way.
Though she crashed out of the Open after a loss to tournament 10th seed Carla Suarez-Navarro, even in that loss, Gavrilova showed both gumption and skill. She bageled her experienced opponent – beating her 6-0 in the first set, before the Spaniard came back to win the next two sets and the match.
The 21-year-old had the biggest results of her career on the WTA Tour in 2015, where she pulled off two major upsets – first against former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova, whom she ousted from the Miami Masters in straight sets. She then beat another former No. 1, Ana Ivanovic, at the Rome Masters, dropping the first set before consecutively winning the following two sets from a tiebreak.
She has been enjoying somewhat of a dream run at the Australian Open so far. after pulling off two strong wins, defeating Hradecka and Kvitova.
In her first round match, Gavrilova pulled off victory against Hradecka in straight sets, beating her 7-6, 6-4.
Although she is ranked higher than Czech ace Lucie Hradecka, the Czech athlete had significantly more experience than Gavrilova, with 17 WTA titles and 3 Grand Slam titles, albeit in doubles.
Defeating Hradecka in convincing fashion definitely added to Gavrilova’s confidence going forward.
Then, she proceeded to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament. Up against 6th seed and two-time Grand Slam winner Petra Kvitova, who beat her the last time the two played in Wuhan in 2015, Gavrilova was expected to bow out of the tournament.
What was not expected was that the 21-year-old would systematically dismantle the attack of the big-serving Kvitova.
It was Kvitova who broke Gavrilova, as the Russian trailed in the first set and was visibly frustrated on court.
However, she was able to channel that frustration very effectively, breaking Kvitova back each time. Building on her momentum, she took the final three games of the set without conceding a single point, winning the set 6-4 after having been 2-3 down.
In the second set, she led Kvitova 5-3, but faltered whilst serving for the match. She eventually came back after a small blip to beat Kvitova 6-4, 6-4.
And yet again, she was up against a far more experienced player in Kristina ‘Kiki’ Mladenovic in the third round. The two are old rivals, having last met as juniors in 2009. That year, Mladenovic was up against Gavrilova at the finals of the 2009 French Open – a home slam for Mladenovic, and one she would go on to win.
Although Mladenovic has more experience and has won two Grand Slams in doubles, Gavrilova was not fazed and took on the Frenchwoman just as she had fought Kvitova. This victory was not as easy for the Russian-Australian, however.
After winning the first set 6-4, Gavrilova faltered as Mladenovic won the second. The final set was arguably the strongest test for her at the Open so far; with Mladenovic leading at 7-6, the young Australian had to hold to stay in it. Now level at 7-7, the pair went on to hold respectively at 8-8 before Gavrilova managed to draw blood.
The final match score read 6-4, 4-6, 11-9 in a truly evenly-matched contest.
But Gavrilova is no slouch in the singles – her successful juniors career saw her win the US Open and an Olympic medal, during the latter of which she represented her country of birth, Russia.
Earlier this year, Gavrilova was part of Australia’s winning Hopman Cup side, and although she faltered in the singles in the early stages of the tournament, she staged a comeback to win both singles and mixed doubles with 20-year-old Nick Kyrgios.
Gavrilova became an Australian citizen in November of last year after having represented Russia and lived in Moscow until her late teens, representing her home country till late 2015.
Back in the days of her juniors career, Gavrilova was heralded as a player to look out for – and with her best ever performance at a Slam so far, she is proving fans right. Her storied run has captured the imagination of the home crowd and has given them a player to support going forward.
Her shot-making was exquisite, displaying a skill and precision that belied her years and experience on the WTA circuit; if you’ve missed watching her Australian Open matches live on Sony ESPN, highlights of her game can be viewed on the SonyLIV.com and even on their app.
In case you don’t have access to a television and are missing out on the action, you can livestream matches either on SonyLIV.com or their app, which is available on both the iOS and Android App stores.