AO qualifying: Andorran teen on song again in Melbourne

  • Dan Imhoff

An overnight sensation back home following her extraordinary run to become a junior Australian Open champion at 14, Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva dreams of a return to Rod Laver Arena.

That breakthrough triumph two years ago still holds its own among the tiny nation of Andorra's most celebrated sporting accomplishments.

MORE: All the scores from Day 2 of qualifying for AO 2022

The mere mention of it only leaves the now 16-year-old hungry for more, and after a runner-up showing at an ITF event in Bendigo on Sunday, the match-hardened teenager's confidence is riding high.

"I have incredible memories. I won the first Grand Slam I'd ever played as a junior here in Australia," Jimenez Kasintseva told ausopen.com, following her opening-round qualifying win against Anastasia Zakharova on Tuesday.

MORE: AO qualifying: Aussie teen, comeback Canadian win through

"Actually I wasn't even thinking about coming, so when I won I was very surprised at my age – I was 14. 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."

If Jimenez Kasintseva is to return to Melbourne Park's main arena in 2022, it requires at least a run through qualifying to the main draw and a showdown with one of the top women's seeds, or a run to the second week on debut.

As world No.202, for now she will happily settle for what would be her first main draw appearance at a major.

On Tuesday, she was the first to advance when she rallied from 0-3 down and reeled off 12 of the last 13 games to send Zakharova packing.

She must deny another Russian, Kamilla Rakhimova, to keep her main-draw hopes alive, following the eighth 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.

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."

Following in the footsteps of his teenage compatriot Philip Sekulic a day before, 17-year-old Australian wildcard Edward Winter impressed with an opening-round qualifying victory over former world No.6 Gilles Simon on Tuesday.

At world No.1768, the Adelaide teenager overcame a rankings gap of more than 1600 places against the 37-year-old Frenchman for a 6-3 1-6 6-3 triumph.

Sekulic's win against Matthias Bachinger on Monday only added motivation for Winter, who next meets Dutchman Jesper de Jong, a 5-7 6-4 6-3 winner over another Australian, Akira Santillan.

"Phil played a great match yesterday. I was lucky to watch a bit of that. That obviously inspired me a bit to sort of go out there and have the confidence that we can take these guys on," Winter said. 

"I think it's really important as Aussies to stick together, especially at the Australian Open, so yeah, it did inspire me."

Winter joined compatriot Sekulic in the second round of qualifying

Fourth seed Simon, an Australian Open quarterfinalist in 2009, gained the ascendency following a dominant second set before Winter landed a critical break in the second game of the final set.

"I felt like I really needed to reset," Winter said. "I felt like he played a really good second set and I just started to lose a bit of rhythm and wasn't winning the crucial points."

In-form Roman Safiullin drew on big-match experience and practice gained as a late call-up to Russia's starting line-up at last week's ATP Cup as he easily accounted for Australian former world No.17 Bernard Tomic 6-1 6-4 on Tuesday.

Safiullin, who claimed two singles victories over opponents ranked more than 100 places higher in Sydney before he tested world No.10 Jannik Sinner and No.14 Denis Shapovalov, needed just 58 minutes to set a meeting with 31st seed Christopher Eubanks.

Tomic had no answers for the in-form Safiullin

"It was a great opportunity to start the year (at ATP Cup), especially to use these matches as a practice before qualifying for Australian (Open) … It's great to see how these guys are thinking and working on some things," Safiullin said. 

"Daniil (Medvedev) also shared some things with me. It helps a lot."

Winter was not the sole teenage Australian wildcard to spring a surprise on Tuesday. 

Perth 16-year-old Taylah Preston made a resounding debut, thumping 27 winners past former world No.32 Kurumi Nara in a 7-5 6-4 victory.

The pair was among a contingent of nine Australian winners on Tuesday, which also included Marc Polmans and Matt Ebden in the men’s draw, and Seone Mendez, Zoe Hives, Jaimee Fourlis, Lizette Cabrera and Arina Rodionova in the women’s draw.

Former world No.5 Sara Errani fell 6-4 6-4 in her opening match against South Korean Jang Su-jeong, while Ysaline Bonatventure, a winner in Bendigo at the weekend, accounted for former top-20 Romanian and 10th seed Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-2 6-2.