The first major tournament of 2021 is already underway, and though main draw action for the Australian Open won’t begin until February because of the COVID-19 pandemic, qualifying matches kicked off over the weekend.
Health and safety protocols mean that, rather than convene in Melbourne, the men and women vying for the 16 remaining spots in each of the main draws are in Doha and Dubai, respectively. The change in scenery has caused no dip in quality, however; relive all the best moments from Day 2 of the Qualifying tournaments:
Top seeds Barrère, Juvan advance
Gregoire Barrère and Kaja Juvan narrowly missed Melbourne’s main draw cut-off but made strong cases in each of their opening round clashes—easing through by nearly identical scorelines. Barrère, a former Top 80 player who scored a win over Grigor Dimitrov last February in Montpellier, ousted Czech journeyman Znedek Kolar, 7-6(5), 6-3. Juvan, who pushed Serena Williams to three sets at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships and upset elder sister Venus last spring in Acapulco, was similarly decisive against Aussie Storm Sanders, 7-6(4), 6-2.
Bernard Tomic and Eugenie Bouchard are two of their tours’ most enigmatic talents, having both hit great heights only to find themselves well short of a ranking necessary to avoid qualifying.
A former world No. 17 with three trips to the Australian Open second on his resume, Tomic needed three sets to knock out No. 14 seed Jozef Kovalík; countryman Tristan Schoolkate looms in the second round.
Bouchard made her major breakthrough in 2014 with a run to the Wimbledon final, and after years in the proverbial wilderness, appeared on the upswing to end 2020 with a runner-up finish in Istanbul and a third round result in Roland Garros—falling to eventual champion Iga Swiatek. The highest-ranked player in her section, the No. 25 seed took out Australia’s Abbie Myers in straight sets to book a meeting with Yuan Yue of China.
Sherif continues historic bid
Egypt’s Mayar Sherif became the first from her country to qualify for the French Open main draw in 2020. Once there, she made the moment one to remember as she put former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova on the brink of defeat during a three-set thriller.
Looking to make the same history in Melbourne, the Pepperdine University graduate is fresh off a run of impressive ITF Pro Circuit events last fall—including a 100K title in Charleston—and took no time at all (50 minutes to be exact) to defeat Akiko Omae, 6-0, 6-1.
Solid day for American stars
Mixed fortunes pervaded the American contingent, but the biggest names can’t complain as the opening round of qualifying concluded on Monday. No. 4 seed Denis Kudla knocked out Elliot Benchetrit while compatriot Michael Mmoh scored an upset of his own, defeating No. 24 seed Danilo Petrovic, 6-3, 6-2.
On the women’s side, No. 12 seed Catherine McNally—who took the first set from Serena Williams in their 2019 US Open encounter—solved reigning junior Wimbledon champion Daria Snigur, 6-3, 6-1. Fellow teen sensation Whitney Osuigwe scored one of the biggest wins of the day, stunning No. 5 seed Katarzyna Kawa, 6-4, 6-3.
I broke the ice!!????????First win since september 2019 when i had to stop tennis due to my injury. I am happy to compete again after the dark period and tough moments I've been through for the last few months! I hope you will always support me either in good or worst of times pic.twitter.com/35DDX11Uqa— Mihaela Buzarnescu (@MikiBuzarnescu) January 11, 2021
Buzarnescu's comeback celebration
Former world No. 20 Mihaela Buzarnescu had just won her first WTA title in San Diego when a sudden ankle injury against Elina Svitolina in Montréal essentially derailed her career. The Romanian lefty had already led a career snake-bitten by injury, with her 2018 breakthrough likely serving as a painful reminder of what could have been.
Winless in 2020, Buzarnescu nonetheless began the new season with something to celebrate, scoring a notable victory over Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena—herself a former Top 60 player—to put herself into the second round against American Claire Liu. Another former junior Wimbledon champion, Liu was famously the only woman to take a set from Angelique Kerber in her 2018 title run at the All England Club.
The best of the rest
Grand Slam qualifying typically features an array of new and familiar faces, and this week’s tournaments are no different. Russian veteran Aslan Karatsev kept his dream of a major main draw debut alive after a strong swing on the ATP Challenger Circuit last fall, surviving American Brandon Nakashima, 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-2 as the No. 3 seed.
Former world No. 23 Damir Dzumhur reached the third round of the Australian Open back in 2018; now the No. 7 seed in qualifying, he also required three sets to advance over Emilio Gomez, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
Canadian Rebecca Marino continued her inspiring comeback after mental health struggles curtailed her career nearly a decade ago, defeating Romania’s Jacqueline Cristian in straight sets.
Margarita Gasparyan was among a trio of Russian women to serve notice at the 2016 Australian Open, only for injuries to keep her off the court for much of the following three years. As the No. 14 seed, the former world No. 41 marched past Italian Martina di Giuseppe, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
Second round matches begin on Tuesday afternoon, featuring winners from today along Sunday’s winners, including US Open quarterfinalist Tsvetana Pironkova, resurgent Croatian star Ana Konjuh, Dustin Brown, and Segiy Stakhovsky.