Daria Gavrilova has capped a stunning comeback from injury to win the Australian Open 2015 Play-off and secure a main draw wildcard into the year’s first Grand Slam event.
And she did so in fine style, reeling off 11 of the final 14 games to record a comprehensive 6-4 6-2 victory over Arina Rodionova.
This time last year, Gavrilova was on crutches after suffering a serious right knee injury, “jealous” watching from the sidelines as other players competed for a prized main draw berth.
But this year she secured one herself, and was thrilled to have done so.
“I still can’t believe it. I’m just really happy and I don’t know what to say,” she laughed.
“I actually thought about it during my match. I was like ‘oh wow you were on crutches last year, so come on, keep fighting, you can do it’. So that helped.”
Initially it was the fourth-seeded Rodionova who looked the form player of the two, barely missing a ball and attacking strongly to immediately break serve and build a 2-0 lead, winning eight of the first nine points.
Gavrilova enjoyed a settling service hold in the third game, producing some winners and appearing to find her range.
Down 3-1, Gavrilova held then broke to level scores at three all before coming through an epic seventh game featuring 11 deuces; the two women could barely be separated as they each gained and lost several opportunities to nudge ahead.
“Wow,” was Gavrilova’s response when asked to assess the importance of the seventh game.
“I said (to myself) if you win this game, you’re going to win the match.
“Although I lost the next game I still thought I was tougher that time, and I could be tough again.”
Indeed, Rodionova held serve comfortably to level scores at 4-4, but Gavrilova’s confidence had surged – she smacked a swinging volley winner on the way to holding for 5-4, and broke in the next game by forcing errors and producing winners to take the second set.
Players were evenly-matched at the beginning of the second set but it was Gavrilova who made the first move; with her grunts becoming louder, she cracked a down-the-line forehand winner to hold for 2-1.
In the next game – another deuce struggle – Gavrilova broke with a delightfully angled crosscourt backhand winner.
From there the floodgates opened. Gavrilova produced another three winners – she was especially damaging off her forehand wing – to consolidate the break and push ahead 4-1. Two games later another swinging volley winner helped her hold to love for 5-2 and she quickly reached three match points in the eighth game as Rodionova wilted.
She narrowly missed two would-be winners, but sealed victory on her third match point when Rodionova erred.
“It just feels great that I won it,” she said.
“I feel like I deserve to be in the main draw of the Australian Open.”