Queensland-based wildcard Kimberly Birrell has pulled off an impressive first-round upset over 31st seed Kaia Kanepi at the Australian Open, saving two match points in the three-set triumph. Birrell, who earned her wildcard spot after Venus Williams withdrew from the tournament, claimed an improbable victory from a set down, 3-6, 7-6, 6-1.
Under the searing heat at Melbourne Park, the World No.167 continued the sensational start to the tournament for the Australian hopefuls with her stunning comeback against the 2022 quarter-finalist. After an inauspicious start to the grand slam with the withdrawals of Nick Kyrgios and Ajla Tomljanovic, Birrell joins the likes of Olivia Gadecki, Jason Kubler, John Millman and Rinky Hijikata in the second round.
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However the match wasn't without controversy, with Kanepi showing frustration with the crowd during the second set tiebreak. The Estonian star complained to the chair umpire after someone in the crowd called out in the middle of a rally while Birrell was serving to a 2-1 lead during the tiebreak.
Kanepi missed a shot down the baseline right as the shout from the crowd rang out, clearly exasperated after the ball was called out. After a brief exchange with the chair umpire, the crowd was reminded to remain quiet while points were being played.
Birrell went on to win the tiebreak, and it was clear the momentum had shifted once the third set got underway. Kanepi had no answers for her Aussie rival, with Birrell breaking her serve to win the match.
It was a remarkable breakthrough for Birrell, who has battled multiple injuries throughout her career. The victory over Kanepi was her first at a grand slam since her impressive effort at the 2019 Australian Open, where she made the third round.
"Even without this win today, it's all been worthwhile," Birrell said on court after the match when asked about her lengthy comeback from a troublesome elbow injury. "I'm doing what I absolutely love, and not many people get to wake up and live their dream and know that so many people are supporting me.
"Not just my family and friends, but so many people watching here today and back home on TV. Thank you so much, I love you all. I knew she's a quality player and how deep she's gone in slams. I'm so happy that I've won today and I get to play again."
"I love you all!" ❤️
Aussie wildcard Kim Birrell's emotional interview after knocking out one of last year's quarter-finalists! ⚡
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Aussie wildcard Kimberly Birrell through to second round
Birrell faces Linda Fruhvitova in the second round, the 17-year-old Czech World No.82 in what could be a stern test on the way to the third round. She follows fellow Australian Olivia Gadecki into the second round.
The 20-year-old seized the opening set against Russia's Polina Kudermetova with the only break, nailing a big backhand down the line to spark rapturous applause from spectators on Court 8. The Aussie then reeled off a run of six-straight games as she powered to victory in 76 minutes.
Perhaps the most remarkable of the Australian victories on day one went to Rinky Hijikata, who came back from two sets down to prevail 4-6 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 over German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann, sending fans into raptures over the qualifier's performance.
Hijikata, who famously won the first set against Rafa Nadal at the US Open last year, collapsed to the court in disbelief after sealing the victory. "I'm lost for words. That was mental," he said after the four-hour, 25-minute epic.
His win came after fellow Aussies Kubler and Millman also produced stirring victories. Millman booked a showdown with two-time finalist Daniil Medvedev after cashing in on his wildcard with a five-set marathon victory.
The 33-year-old twice trailed Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland by a set, but fought back before winning 6-7 (8-10) 7-5 6-7 (2-7) 6-2 6-3 in four hours and six minutes. The win sets up a clash with Medvedev on Wednesday after the Russian star dispatched American Marcos Giron 6-0 6-1 6-2.
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