Australian Open qualifier Bianca Andreescu starts of 2019 with a win over Venus Williams:
As the Australian Open gets ready to begin, 32 players between the men’s and women’s draws will enter the tournament already battle-tested, having earned their berth in the main event through the qualifying rounds.
From veterans working their way back up the rankings to young players making their Grand Slam debuts, there’s no shortage of talent among the hopefuls that could catch a higher-ranked opponent off guard and pull off am upset.
In his last appearance at the Australian Open, in 2017, Dan Evans reached the round of 16 at a major for the first time. It was a continuation of his stellar start to the year, as he was coming off his first singles final in Sydney. But what was a promising beginning was soon derailed as he was forced to serve a lengthy suspension due to a positive drug test.
Upon his return last year, Evans has been working his way back with his shot-making flair already on display in Melbourne. He faces Tatsuma Ito, another qualifier, in the first round with the winner of that match likely to face Roger Federer.
Thanasi Kokkinakis, one of Australia’s most talented—and injury-prone—young players, is also through to the main draw. Last year, the 2013 boys’ Australian Open runner-up won two Challenger tournaments, his first singles titles in three years. More impressively, Kokkinakis eked out a third-set tiebreak win against Federer at the Miami Open. In Melbourne, he’ll face Taro Daniel of Japan first up, with a potential showdown against another bright young talent, Denis Shapovalov, in the second round.
A month younger than Kokkinakis, 22-year-old Christopher Eubanks is preparing for his Australian Open main-draw debut. After dropping the first set in his opening qualifying match, the American didn’t lose another, taking six straight to make a Grand Slam field for only the second time in his young career. Right off the bat, Eubanks will face a test as he’s drawn to face Nikoloz Basilashvili, the 19th seed, in the first round.
Eubanks is one of four Americans to qualify for the event, as he’ll be joined by Bjorn Fratangelo and Mitchell Krueger on the men’s side, and Varvara Lepchenko among the women. Lepchenko, a veteran of the tour, will be making her 10th consecutive appearance in the Australian Open main draw after squeaking by countrywoman Christina McHale in a match tiebreak. She’ll face fellow qualifier Natalia Vikhlyantseva in the first round.
While Lepchenko extends her streak of Australian Open main-draw appearances, one of the hottest players of 2019 will be making her debut. Only 18, Bianca Andreescu had a start to the season any young player would envy: At the Auckland Open, the Canadian reached her first career singles final with wins over 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and seven-time major winner Venus Williams along the way.
She’ll enter the Australian Open relatively fresh, as she only had to complete one of three possible matches to advance. In the first round, she’ll go up against the American wild card Whitney Osuigwe with a possible showdown against Anastasija Sevastova, the 13th seed, looming in the second round. Andreescu has had some success at the year’s first major, having won the girls’ doubles only two years ago.
Familiarity with the conditions will be beneficial, and as the case with Andreescu and the other qualifiers, they’ll enter the main draw on a high, having earned their place in the tournament by fending off other players eager to make their mark in Melbourne.
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