Aussie wildcard Kim Birrell was overcome with emotion at a sweltering Melbourne Park on Tuesday after completing a stunning first round upset win over Estonian Kaia Kanepi at the Australian Open. The gutsy Queenslander hung tough in the oppressive conditions to power into the second round with a 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-1 win.
On a day that saw matches on the outside courts temporarily suspended after temperatures soared above 35 degrees, Birrell proved too hot for the 31st seed as Kanepi began to wilt. The Estonian served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but Birrell fought back to send the match into a decider, before finding another gear in the third stanza.
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With fans flocking into Kia Arena in their droves, Birrell rode the wave of home support to become just the second Aussie women to advance to the second round at this year's Australian Open after compatriot Olivia Gadecki beat Russian Polina Kudermetova on Monday.
Birrell's only two previous victories at grand slam level came during her run to the third round of the 2019 Australian Open, with injuries hampering her progress in the years since. The Aussie - currently ranked No.167 in the world - touched on what the win meant in an emotional on-court interview after the match.
"Even without this win today, it's worthwhile - I'm doing what I absolutely love and not many people get to wake up and live their dream," she said. "I know that so many people are supporting me. Not just my family and friends who I know personally but so many people that are watching here today and back home on TV - thank you so much, I love you all."
Birrell's second-round opponent will be Czech Linda Fruhvirtova, who beat fellow Australian wildcard Jaimee Fourlis 6-0 6-4 on Tuesday. The Aussie said she was pleased to be able to block out the score when facing elimination on Kanepi's serve in the second set, before launching her comeback.
"To be honest, I was trying not to think about it. I know she's a quality player and I know how deep she's gone in slams," she added. "I'm so happy that I won today and I get to play again."
"I know she's (Fruhvirtova) one of the next up and coming players of our generation, but look - everyone who plays in the main draw of a grand slam is really good, so I'm just facing another battle and I'm going to enjoy every second."
Sweltering heat wreaks havoc on day two
Birrell's incredible win came on a scorching day at Melbourne Park, where officials invoked the extreme heat policy, giving players additional breaks during matches. However things went to the next level around 2pm when the call was made to suspend play. Aussie Jordan Thompson was in the middle of his first-round match when players were taken from the court.
"The AO Heat Stress Scale has reached 5 and play will be suspended on the outside courts," Tennis Australia said in a statement. "This means play continues until the end of an even number of games or the completion of a tie break. No new matches will be called to court. Play on outdoor practice courts is also suspended."
Aryna Sabalenka, Garbine Muguruza, Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev could all be seen struggling and suffered in the brutal conditions of the day session. According to leading tennis writer Tumaini Carayol, a ball girl had to be taken from the court during Taylor Townsend's win over Diane Parry.
The Australian Open is always played in brutal heat due to the fact it takes place in January in the middle of the Aussie summer. But speaking to reporters before the event, Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley rejected calls to move the event.
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