Young guns Elias Ymer and Carlos Alcaraz sealed their spots in the main draw of Australian Open 2021 after the final round of qualifying was completed in Doha on Wednesday.
Alcaraz, a 17-year-old Spaniard and one of the sport’s hottest prospects, charged into the main draw of a Slam for the first time following a 6-2 6-3 win over No.2 seed Hugo Dellien.
That result came after Ymer was similarly dominant in a 6-1 6-2 dismissal of fifth seed Taro Daniel, a win moving the Swede into the main draw of a major tournament for the first time since 2018.
Also qualifying for the year’s first Grand Slam event were No.3 seed Aslan Karatsev – who has now won 32 of his past 38 matches after trouncing Alexandre Muller – and former world No.12 Viktor Troicki, a straight-sets winner over Cedrik-Marcel Stebe.
Another former top-20 player, Bernard Tomic, survived a thrilling fight with fellow Aussie John-Patrick Smith, sealing a 6-4 5-7 7-6[10-7] victory under lights.
Yet former world No.23 Damir Dzumhur was unable to join them on the flight to Melbourne, losing 6-2 6-0 to Kimmer Coppejans. Top seed Gregoire Barrere was also beaten, going down 6-3 6-4 to Portugal's Frederico Ferreira Silva.
Ymer back on track
Ymer ensured a heartwarming milestone when he sealed an exciting match point against Daniel, scrambling about the court to stay alive in a rally before ending it with a searing forehand passing shot up the line.
It means he will join younger brother Mikael – the world No.94 and two years younger than Elias – in the main draw at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.
“Family is so important to me and, like, where we come from, for two brothers to make the same main draw, it's like unbelievable, I have to say. It's crazy,” he told ausopen.com.
“When I saw him play all these matches and playing so good, when I was doing my rehab for my elbow, I was like, man, if my brother can do this, come on Elias. I felt like kind of the energy of it.
“He's been a big support and now we're going to use each other a lot. He's top 100, and to be travelling together (on the same flight to Melbourne) with him, can you ask for more? It's a blessing, a miracle.”
The elder Ymer needed that support, for after an impressive season in 2018 that saw him qualify for the main draw of the Australian and French Opens and hit a peak of world No.105 in June, he was stalled by an elbow injury that ultimately required surgery.
Now ranked outside the top 200, the Swede feels he has corrected course.
He relocated his pre-season from Florida to Dubai, a move that he believes better prepare him for the similar conditions in Doha, where he won his three qualifying rounds for the loss of just one set.
“I finally got some time to really recover my body during 2020. And I feel like now I'm in a great shape physically. The match point ... I was flying on the court,” he smiled.
“I hope I can keep this up. I'm only seeing the future, you know? I can never go back. Stay in the present moment. And I'm going to Melbourne, that's it.”
Milestone for Alcaraz
So is Alcaraz, who will make the first trip to Australia of his burgeoning career.
The Spanish teenager won an incredible 39 matches from 46 outings in 2020, scooping three ATP Challenger titles and improving his ranking by more than 350 places.
And, despite revealing he struggled with nerves in his first match, he improved with every round in Doha to win three more.
A year ago, Carlos Alcaraz was ranked 490. Since then, he has won 5 titles (3 Challengers, 2 ITF), 2 finals (1 CH, 1 ITF), two top 100 wins, #135 ranking, 42-7 (84%) record and he has now qualified for his first slam at the Australian Open. Seems decent for a 17 year old.— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) January 13, 2021
"Well I'm really happy. Very happy to be able to play my first Grand Slam main draw. So I felt that it's good to do that. I'm trying very hard to be here,” he said.
"During the day I felt a little bit nervous. But when I entered today to the court, I tried to relax the body, relax the arms. And thought that I played my game. That's all. And try to be calm.”
The mental side of the game is crucial for Alcaraz, who is aware of the hype surrounding his impressive results, rapid improvement and consideration by many as the “next big thing”.
He is the first player born in 2003 to contest a Slam main draw, and has a well-known coach in former world No.1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 Roland Garros champion.
"The most thing I worked on in the pre-season is the mental game. The mental game is very important for me,” said Alcaraz, who is targeting the top 50 in 2021.
"I just listen to my team, listen to my family, and I don't mind that people talk (about) me, and the social media. I try to play my game.
“It's my second Grand Slam, it's my first Grand Slam main draw, and yeah, I feel that pressure for that, not for the people on social media. Just for the tournament.”
Tight finishes in Doha
Ten of the day’s 16 final-round matches were decided in straight sets. But there were some thrillers in Doha to conclude the qualifying event.
No.15 seed Henri Laaksonen was broken in the ninth game of the third set by Borna Gojo, who moved ahead 5-4 and 30-0 when serving for the match. Yet the Swiss recovered to win 10-7 in a match tie-break.
Roman Safiullin, an Australian Open boys’ singles champion in 2015, rebounded to beat Constant Lestienne of France 6-7(2) 6-3 6-4, thus qualifying for a Slam main draw for the first time.
Mario Vilella Martínez also came back from the loss of the first set to pip Tung-Lin Wu 4-6 7-5 6-4.
Other AO 2021 qualifiers were Quentin Halys, Michael Mmoh, Tomas Machac, Botic Van de Zandschulp, Maxime Cressy and Sergiy Stakhovsky.