AO qualifying: Birrell flies the flag, Marterer maintains momentum

  • Dan Imhoff

Kimberly Birrell thinks it's best she not count the hours glued to her phone this week, hitting refresh on fellow Australians' results.

Birrell's screen time would only have spiked further on Wednesday, on account of an influx of messages after the 23-year-old eased past Georgian Ekaterine Gorgodze 6-2 6-1 to reach the final round of Australian Open qualifying.

MORE: All the scores from Day 3 of qualifying for AO 2022

"I don't even want to know what my screen time is, but yeah, it's just constantly on the AO app and refreshing Tennis Australia's Instagram because that's where they put all the Aussie results," Birrell said. 

"Both the men and the women seem like they're doing really well this week and I feel really proud to be, especially a female, tennis player at the moment. 

"I think the cohort of Australian female tennis is just so amazing. I think we're all great people on and off the court … I think we're all rooting for each other, which is a really special feeling."

Birrell was one of a host of local women to advance to the second round of qualifying

One of seven Australian women to reach the second round of qualifying – the most in more than 30 years – the 664th-ranked wildcard was contesting just her sixth event in two-and-a-half years due to a recurring right elbow injury.

Ahead of her 2022 return, Birrell had only played three tournaments at home last summer since Wimbledon qualifying in June 2019.

The Queenslander had enjoyed a strong showing on home soil three years ago with wins over the likes of then-world No.10 Daria Kasatkina and Kristina Mladenovic before her run through qualifying to the Australian Open main draw.

There she claimed wins over Paula Badosa and 29th seed Donna Vekic before former champion Angelique Kerber ended her dash on Rod Laver Arena.

MORE: AO qualifying: Andorran teen on song again in Melbourne

"I think that's a huge benefit that we Aussies have playing here at the start of every year… I really do feel like I'm at home, especially in 2019, those memories are still really fresh in my mind," she said. 

"When I saw the schedule that I was playing on Show Court 3, yeah it's one of my favourite courts, so I have some great memories on that court and I felt really comfortable. I think, yeah, it helps us a lot."

Next up, a showdown against British 11th seed Harriet Dart, a peer she grew up with in juniors and whom she warmed up with on Wednesday morning.

"To be honest even just playing first-round qualies meant so much to me … Each time I step out on the court I'm pinching myself and I feel really grateful," Birrell said. 

"I'm just really happy to be playing after what I've been through these last couple of years. 

"Even just having a racquet in my hand means a lot … I've had a lot of time to become really clear on my identity as a tennis player over the last couple of years. I put in the hard work and I think it really shone through, even though I haven't played that many matches."

German former world No.45 Maximilian Marterer closed in on qualifying for his third Grand Slam main draw from the past four majors with a 6-2 7-6(8) victory over Prajnesh Gunneswaran. The now world No.228 meets either compatriot Tobias Kamke or Bulgarian Dimitar Kuzmanov next.

"It's always something special to get through the qualies at any Slam that I play," Marterer said. 

"I've never been in the qualies finals of Aussie Open. It will be the first time but I have some good memories already here in Melbourne city and looking forward to the match."

Marterer took a step closer to his first AO main draw berth since 2019

The 26-year-old enjoyed a breakout six months in 2018 when he defeated Fernando Verdasco en route to the Australian Open third round and Denis Shapovalov on his way to the fourth round at Roland Garros, before a knee injury a year later derailed his progress.

"It's obviously memories that last forever, actually. It's the biggest success that I had in my career so far," Marterer said. 

"Maybe that helps me also in the Grand Slam matches that I have competed (in) at a really high level already on those big tournaments, and yeah, maybe it's those crucial moments where I have already experienced it before … Maybe that gives me that confidence that I need in those deciding moments." 

Eighth seed Kamilla Rakhimova saved two match points to deny Australian Open 2020 girls' singles champion Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva 6-7(5) 7-6(8) 6-4 after three hours and 20 minutes for a final-round qualifying clash against former world No.38 Rebecca Marino.

American world No.168 Hailey Batiste landed the biggest upset of the day when she saw off fourth-seeded Serbian Nina Stojanovic 6-3 6-4. The 20-year-old will meet in-form Yuan Yue for a main draw berth after the 23-year-old Chinese, who won the ITF title in Traralgon at the weekend, won for the 17th time in her past 18 matches in a 7-6(1) 6-4 victory over American Caty McNally.

In a clash between two former 34-year-old former top-40 opponents, Mikhail Kukushkin prevailed over Dutchman Robin Haase 7-5 7-6(2), while former world No.28 Joao Sousa needed almost two hours to end the charge of Australian Marc Polmans 3-6 6-0 6-4 late on Wednesday.