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The breakout stars of Australian Open 2023

  • Gill Tan

A mix of fresh faces and seasoned athletes made their mark in Melbourne Park this January. 

Compelling performances at the year's first Grand Slam can be a precursor for success over the rest of the season.

Here are three women and three men who are aiming to make potent dents in draws around the world this year.

Linda Fruhvirtova 

The assured 17-year-old has declared that she wants to win majors and become world No.1.

A run to the final 16 in her Australian Open debut adds to the Czech star's belief that she will one day achieve her goals.

"Definitely [it] was a very positive tournament for me...I think I'm going to get some more chances here in the following years," Fruhvirtova said.

She was rightly upbeat after extending Donna Vekic to three sets during her fourth round defeat.

"It definitely showed me that I can be in Grand Slam quarterfinals…I have the level to be there," she said.

"It definitely showed me what to work on next and come back stronger."

Fruhvirtova is aware that her advantage of being an unknown quantity will dissipate as the season progresses. 

"The more matches I play [at] this level, the more the other players are going to know me, are going to know my game. But I'll just try to keep improving my game so it doesn't matter if they know me or don't," she said.

The talented youngster also dismissed as premature comparisons of her and her 15-year-old sister Brenda to the immensely successful Williams sisters.

Brenda made her Grand Slam debut in Melbourne after winning through qualifying. "We can be good, and we'll see what happens, but I think it's too soon to compare us to Serena and Venus," Linda said.

Zhu Lin

In her sixth AO campaign, China’s world No. 87 made a stunning run to her career-first major round of 16.

The 28-year-old produced stirring victories over sixth seed Maria Sakkari and 32nd seed Jil Teichmann

NEW YEAR, NEW ZHU: world No.87 chasing new heights in 2023 

"This obviously gave me a lot of confidence, make me believe in myself I can play better tennis," Zhu said after her fourth round defeat to Victoria Azarenka. 

Zhu Lin (Getty Images)

Victory over Sakkari marked Zhu’s first top-10 win in six attempts, prompting tears of joy and relief. "It took me a long way to get here," she admitted.

"There [were] a lot up and downs…sometimes I think about maybe I'm not good enough for tennis, I think about retire[ment]," she revealed.

With those thoughts long buried, Zhu has no interest in being a one-Slam wonder. 

"Not just only for one match or one tournament, I need [to be] more consistent for [the] whole season," she said.

Katie Volynets

The future looks bright for the 21-year-old, who posted five consecutive wins to reach the third round as a qualifier.

The American scored a surprising upset over ninth seed Veronika Kudermetova to secure a maiden top-10 win.

The Californian was introduced to tennis when her brother took up the sport after their parents emigrated to the USA from Ukraine.

Her victory over Kudermetova on Margaret Court Arena is a memory she will cherish for life.

"I have not played in front of that many people before, and I didn't expect to have that many fans behind me in Australia, that's super cool," she laughed.

"It felt really special to the point where after I won, I literally got chills by hearing their voices. 

Ranked world No.113 before the AO, Volynets will be eager to use her improved ranking to make waves at upcoming tournaments.

Jiri Lehecka

After tumbling out of all four majors in the first round in 2022, the Czech's breakthrough AO 2023 run to the final eight is all the more remarkable. 

The 21-year-old slayed sixth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime, 11th seed Cam Norrie and 21st seed Borna Coric before being tamed by No.3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

"To have the privilege to play [in the] quarterfinal of Australian Open on one of the biggest stages in the world, it was a big privilege," the Czech said.

"I enjoyed it a lot. I enjoyed the crowd. I enjoyed the arena. 

"It's one of the nicest tennis courts in the world," he said after making his Rod Laver Arena debut. 

Even so, Lehecka said his deep run was "bittersweet", in part because he believed it ended prematurely due to his inability to convert any of his eight break point chances against Tsitsipas. 

The silver lining though, is that the experience both fuelled his motivation and taught him a lesson: patience, especially in big moments, is key. 

Ben Shelton

Just months after making his Grand Slam debut at the US Open, the 20-year-old American could not have dreamed of a better foray into the wide world of tennis.

On his first trip outside his native US, the left-hander secured the first five Grand Slam wins of his career to soar through to the final eight on his AO debut, falling in four sets to countryman Tommy Paul in his first major quarterfinal.  

"I think it was a great experience… I'm pleased with the result, this being my first time at the Australian Open," he said.

Shelton is juggling online college classes as well as a pro career. 

"I definitely exceeded my expectations," he said. "Not just tennis-wise but physically being able to get through as many three-out-of-five-set matches as I did." 

He saved match point against Zhang Zhizhen in a five-set first-round battle and then, in the round of 16, outlasted compatriot J.J. Wolf in five.

READ: Shelton shaping up for shining career

"I've learned that I have the ability to be really tough on the court, to stay tough for five sets," he said.

"I've kind of proven to myself that I can hang with a lot of people for extended periods of time out on the court. I'm taking that as a huge positive, not just my tennis level but my mentality out on the court, the level that I was able to compete at, and maintain."

A Davis Cup-like atmosphere for his third round win over Alexei Popyrin will stick with him. "Probably one of the cooler matches that I've been part of," he remarked. 

Ben Shelton (Getty Images)

The American said he's looking forward to testing himself on new surfaces this season.

"I think that my game is really well-suited for the clay. I'm looking forward to be able to use the higher bounces to my advantage, moving, sliding," he said.

"And the grass as well…I have confidence that I'll be able to figure it out."

J.J. Wolf

Wolf, like Shelton, joined an impressive shortlist of men who have reached the Australian Open fourth round on debut.

The American 24-year-old, who played for Ohio State University before turning pro, had shown glimpses of greatness at majors, reaching the third round of the US Open in 2020 and again last year. 

He has been buoyed by a strong campaign at Melbourne Park, which included a straight sets win over of 23rd seed Diego Schwartzman.

"I'm very happy with how I played here. I hope I can keep building on it," he said. "Just need to keep improving and get tougher."

Entering the tournament at world No.67, the Cincinnati-born big-hitter is set to crack the top 50, setting a career high. He said that rivalries among his compatriots who are also surging up the ranks is a huge positive. 

"I think will be really good to push each other…and even for us when we are overseas having guys to train with and push with is really good."