Kostyuk's teenage dream continues

  • Michael Beattie
  • Ben Solomon

Marta Kostyuk’s incredible record at Melbourne Park continues. Aged just 15, last year’s Australian Open girls’ singles champion is now the youngest player to reach the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s run at the 1997 US Open after defeating Australia’s Olivia Rogowska 6-3 7-5.

The second-round victory takes Kostyuk’s unbroken streak of victories at Melbourne Park to 11 – six en route to last year’s junior title, three after making good on her qualifying wildcard last week, and now the first two Grand Slam match wins of her fledgling career, having taken out No.25 seed Shuai Peng in the first round.

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“I'm happy, just happy – I made it through,” says Kostyuk, who remains relatively unfazed for a player whose reputation is growing with each passing victory – perhaps in part on account of her manager, Roger Federer’s coach Ivan Ljubicic. “I beat some records or repeat them every year, so I feel okay.

“Ivan is always helping me when he sees me. After every match he's telling me what was wrong – not everything is right even when I win.”

Ljubicic is bound to have feedback after an error-strewn display from both players as the Melbourne sun beat down on MCA. Kostyuk may be working hard to ditch her perfectionist tendencies – “You make mistakes in every point, in every shot, so you can't be like this or you'll end up in a psycho hospital,” she added on court – but the straight-sets win came in spite of her 45 unforced errors, edging out Rogowska’s 43.

The players traded three breaks of serve in succession before Kostyuk consolidated for a 4-1 lead, dropping and recovering the break once more before sealing the opener on her fourth set point.

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Rogowska struggled to find her range throughout the contest, firing forehand after backhand beyond the baseline in her efforts to overpower an opponent 11 years her junior. Instead it handed Kostyuk a cushion, the Ukrainian breaking in the opening game of the second set in spite of a code violation for coaching, which she vigorously denied.

“I wasn't upset – I was so mad, because I didn't see what mom was showing me,” said Kostyuk. “I just look at her, I showed, like, I didn't do right shot, and I turned so I didn't see what she was showing me. Then when the referee said code violation, I was, like, What? I didn't even see her – I swear I didn't see what she was showing me.

“Yeah, I was so mad, but actually when I'm mad it's helping,” she added.

22 Marta Kostyuk
13 Olivia Rogowska

With the finish line in sight, however, it was Kostyuk’s game that began to show signs of frailty as Rogowska broke back, only to gift the youngster the chance to serve for the match at 6-5. Nerves were still in evidence as she framed a serve high into the crowd on her first match point, defusing the tension with a cheeky challenge, but she wrapped up victory at the second attempt when Rogowska netted a backhand.

Kostyuk, one of three Ukrainian women already through to the third round at Melbourne Park, will now face compatriot and No.4 seed Elina Svitolina in the final 32 – one of the ‘big’ opponents she began visualising across the net following her junior triumph.

“It was actually April of last year,” Kostyuk said. “I was trying to fall asleep and then I started to think, because I knew that I would probably get the wildcard as a winner in juniors next year.

“So I was kind of imagining this, but it was really big wins. I was in the bed, I thought, ‘oh, my God, this is going to happen. Oh, my God.’ But then I stopped myself, because it's a super big goal. If I will not reach this, then I will put myself under pressure.”

 And now that the moment is here, “I will just enjoy it. I think I'm going to play on big court again. I will just try to show my best tennis, because I'm pretty sure, like, all my opponents, she will struggle a little bit, and I will try to use this. That's what I'm going to do. I know a little bit how Elina is playing, but I still didn't go to the details.”