It’s crunch time in Melbourne. That time over the fortnight when refined predictions take on a serious note. But before we turn the Happy Slam into a homework assignment, let’s take a look at several new faces that’ve shone brightly during the opening rounds.
Top Half, Women’s Singles
Margarita Gasparyan — The 21-year-old Russian was one of seven that upset the order of things Monday in Melbourne. In her inaugural Australian Open she defeated number-six seed, Sara Errani, 1-6 7-5, 6-1. Ranked No. 58, Gasparyan ousted Kurumi Nara next followed by Yulia Putintseva, another spirited fresh face. “Poots,” Yulia’s endearing nickname, contributed to Monday’s upsets, as well.
She took down fan-favorite Caroline Wozniacki, the sixteenth seed, only to lose to our unsung hero Gasparyan. The young six-foot Russian has adapted the familiar screech of Maria Sharapova, Gasparyan’s idol as a kid. Her noisy shot-making makes many wonder what ever happened to the WTA’s promise to ensure that young pros apply quieter techniques when connecting with their shots. That aside, Gasparyan will have her hands full come week two. She’s scheduled to play Serena Williams on Monday.
Anna-Lena Friedsam — This Australian Open is the German’s second, and seventh major overall. She’s never advanced beyond the second round of any one slam, which has probably given her much-needed confidence to face that which awaits her in the round of sixteen. However her victory over Roberta Vinci, the number 13 seed and woman who ended Serena’s hopes of a calendar-year Grand Slam in the semifinals of New York last fall, should have puffed up her pride enough to brace for the tougher road ahead.
She’ll take on Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 4) Monday. The recently crowned WTA Final’s Champion has not dropped a set, having dismissed American Christina McHale, 2014 semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard, and a surging Monica Puig. Ranked No. 82 in the world, Friedsam, has no career titles, turned pro in 2011, and says her favorite surface is hard court.
Daria Gavrilova — Australia’s own dragon slayer is not a member of the big-babe tennis hit parade. At five-feet-five, Gavrilova’s assets have more to do with speed and spunk than overwhelming opponents with her size at the net, for example, against Maria Sharapova whom Gavrilova defeated in Miami last year. This is the native Russian’s first foray into week two and fourth round at a major, having never passed round two. She began the tournament with a solid win over Lucie Hradecka, then opened up that quarter of the draw when she defeated two-time Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova, and number six seed in straight sets. Gavrilova next conquered six-foot Frenchwoman and 28th seed, Kristina Mladenovic, in a tussle that went 6-4 4-6 11-9 and just under three hours.
Both Mladenovic and Gavrilova remarked about the boisterous audience, Mladenovic saying she’d ‘never played in front of anything like that.’ Gavrilova agreed, “Yeah, it’s true. I never had a match like that in this stage. Yeah, I could say it is my best win of my whole career.”
Gavrilova faces Carla Suarez Navarro, the 10th seed, in the fourth round. Both women have wicked backhands and claim they love to send the ball down the line. Daria is the only Australian woman in the women’s singles draw but will be joined by either Bernard Tomic or John Millman in the round of sixteen. Their match is Saturday.
In contrast to these new faces on the women’s top half, the men’s top half going into the fourth round is a star-studded and seeded paradise. These are Monday’s match-ups: Novak Djokovic (No. 1) vs. Gilles Simon (No. 14); Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (No. 9) vs. Kei Nishikori (No. 7); Roger Federer (No. 3) vs. David Goffin (No. 10); and Roberto Bautista Agut (No. 24) vs. Tomas Berdych (No. 6).