Brenda Fruhvirtova, Lys, Shnaider and more
Ten players will break new ground at the 2023 Australian Open by contesting the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time — the largest cohort since the 10 who debuted at the 2018 US Open. Get to know them here.
Brenda Fruhvirtova (CZE)
The youngest player in the Top 250 and the first 2007-born player to compete in a Grand Slam main draw, 15-year-old Fruhvirtova is the younger half of a prodigious Czech sister act. She follows hot on the heels of 17-year-old Linda, who made her own Grand Slam debut by qualifying for last year’s US Open.
While Linda was putting together her first Top 100 season in 2022, Brenda was tearing up the ITF World Tour. She has won eight ITF W25 titles and 54 of her first 64 pro matches since debuting in December 2021; last February, she also took out former Roland Garros finalist Sara Errani en route to qualifying for her tour-level debut in Guadalajara. Unranked 13 months ago, Fruhvirtova has rocketed up to her current No.135.
Her game is still developing, but Fruhvirtova’s standout quality as a player is supreme grit. That was evident throughout her first Grand Slam qualifying campaign last week: she came back from a set and 5-1 down to defeat Daria Snigur 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-3 in the second round, and sealed her main draw debut with another comeback, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 over Jessica Bouzas Maneiro. All eyes will be on Fruhvirtova’s first round against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, where she will be aiming for a first Top 100 win and a potential second-round clash with Jessica Pegula.
Olivia Gadecki (AUS)
Olivia Gadecki first announced herself at the 2021 Phillip Island Trophy, where she stunned Sofia Kenin 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 in the second round to become the first unranked teenager to score a Top 10 win in 24 years. Supporting her compatriot from the stands at that tournament was then-World No.1 Ashleigh Barty.
Now retired, the three-time major champion won’t be defending her Australian Open title this year — but she will still play a role at the tournament as a mentor to fellow Queenslander Gadecki, now 20. The powerful Gadecki has made impressive progress in the past two years, reaching five ITF finals and hitting a career high of No.156 last July. Along the way, she’s been able to call on Barty for guidance as she builds her nascent career.
Highlights: Gadecki d. Kenin, 2021 Phillip Island Trophy R2 | Kalinina d. Gadecki, 2022 ‘s-Hertogenbosch R1
“She has always been there for me,” Gadecki told the Australian Associated Press this month. “The best part is she just treats me like a normal person and we can relate in that regard and off court is just as important as on court.”
Having missed last year’s Australian summer due to her unvaccinated status, No.200-ranked Gadecki has received a wild card this year and will open against another Grand Slam first-timer, qualifier Polina Kudermetova.
Talia Gibson (AUS)
A former Top 50 junior, Talia Gibson only had a handful of pro tournaments under her belt as she began 2022. But the Perth native, who did not compete at all in 2021, made up for lost time with a phenomenal first full season. Compiling a 50-21 record overall, she vaulted from No.1200 to No.364 over the course of a year in which she captured three ITF titles.
Gibson is coached by David Taylor, who had previously worked with Grand Slam champions Ana Ivanovic and Samantha Stosur and who told Meta Jaun News that her progress despite being held back by the Covid-19 pandemic had been impressive.
“The year that she has had was a really good level of development in a very short time, so she’s gone from being well behind a world level for her age to being on par now,” Taylor said.
The 18-year-old has been rewarded for that success with her first main draw wild card at her home major. Gibson, who fell to Tatjana Maria in the first round of Hobart last week on her tour-level debut, will open against qualifier Clara Burel.
Julia Grabher (AUT)
Having fallen in the final round of qualifying at two previous majors, Roland Garros 2021 and the 2022 Australian Open, Julia Grabher has managed to bypass it completely this time to make her main draw debut via direct entry.
The 26-year-old Austrian won her first ITF title in 2015 and competed in her first WTA main draw as a home wild card at Linz 2019. But last year saw her take a significant step upwards. Grabher served notice that she had raised her level in Istanbul last April, where she notched her first Top 50 win over Jil Teichmann to reach her maiden WTA quarterfinal.
Photos: The Top 100 breakthroughs of 2022
It didn’t stop there. Grabher cracked the Top 100 in September after lifting her first WTA 125 title in Bari; along with two ITF W60 trophies in San Bartolomé de Tirajana and San Sebastián, she cut her year-end ranking from No.192 to No.84.
Highlights: Grabher d. Ozgen, 2022 Istanbul R1 | Grabher d. Teichmann, 2022 Istanbul R2
Grabher, whose game is anchored around a lethal and versatile forehand, ascribes her improvement to training with Günter Bresnik, the former coach of 2020 US Open men’s champion Dominic Thiem. “That hard work is now paying off,” she told Tennisnet after winning in Bari. “You can’t take a shot out of that now.”
Grabher will get to test that out against No.16 seed Anett Kontaveit in the first round.
Brenda Fruhvirtova wasn’t the only first-time qualifier joining her older sister in the main draw of the Australian Open this year. Polina Kudermetova, 19, is the younger sister of No.9-ranked Veronika, and came through her first Grand Slam qualifying draw in style with wins over Katie Boulter and Asia Muhammad.
The former junior No.4 enjoyed a breakthrough 2022 on the ITF World Tour that saw her cut her WTA ranking from No.573 in January to a career high of No.180 in November. Kudermetova’s 53-19 record included three ITF W25 titles in Raanana, Istanbul and Jerusalem; she was also runner-up at W60 level in San Bartolomé de Tirajana, where she took Arantxa Rus to three sets in her sole meeting with a Top 100 player to date.
The Australian Open will also be Kudermetova’s first tour-level main draw; she will start against wild card Olivia Gadecki.
Eva Lys (GER)
Last April, Eva Lys turned a qualifying wild card in Stuttgart into her breakthrough tournament. After reaching her first WTA main draw, she scored a memorable 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 win over Viktorija Golubic — the first time she had faced a Top 50 player — to set up a clash with World No.1 Iga Swiatek.
Strong support system helping Eva Lys rise on tour
Last month, Lys told wtatennis.com that her Stuttgart experience had felt “euphoric”, and had given her a taste for the spotlight. That showed over the remainder of the season as she cut her year-end ranking from No.340 to No.123 — in particular during a strong finish which saw the German win 13 of her last 16 matches of 2022, including the Trnava ITF W60 title and another Top 50 upset over Petra Martic in the Billie Jean King Cup play-offs. Lys had demonstrated tenacity and speed on the Stuttgart clay and the indoor autumn swing showed that she had added real offensive potential to her game, with a sweetly-struck backhand proving a significant weapon.
Highlights: Lys d. Golubic, 2022 Stuttgart R1
The Kyiv-born 21-year-old has picked up in 2023 where she left off. Last week, she navigated qualifying without dropping a set, defeating 2020 Australian Open junior champion Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva in the final round. Lys will face fellow qualifier Cristina Bucsa in the first round.
✨ That first-Grand-Slam-main-draw feeling ✨
After three qualifying rounds, Katherine Sebov achieved the best performance of her career.
Learn more about her tennis journey in @tomtebbutt‘s blog ⤵️https://t.co/6DOfIu67xI
— Tennis Canada (@TennisCanada) January 12, 2023
Katherine Sebov (CAN)
Getting down to the Antipodes early has paid off for Katherine Sebov. The week before Christmas saw the Canadian travel to New Zealand, where she picked up her second ITF trophy at the Tauranga W25 — a title run that also saw the 24-year-old return to the Top 200 for the first time since 2019.
Even more importantly, Sebov was able to maintain that form at Grand Slam qualifying level, where she had previously been winless in two attempts. But last week, she kicked off her Melbourne campaign with a huge upset, knocking out 18-year-old sensation and Adelaide 1 finalist Linda Noskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Sebov backed that up with straight-sets defeats of Priscilla Hon and Simona Waltert to make the main draw.
Highlights: Putintseva d. Sebov, 2022 Toronto R1
She has the opportunity to pull off an even bigger shock there: having never previously faced a Top 30 opponent, Sebov has been drawn against No.4 seed Caroline Garcia in the first round.
After defeating Waltert, Sebov told Tennis Canada: “My theory is that there is no such thing as an easy match.” As a player whose description of her own game is that “I always rush people and make them play bad,” that’s been a useful guiding principle that’s helped her grind her way up the rankings. Could it work against the WTA Finals champion?
Former junior No.2 Diana Shnaider could be on her way to becoming one of the most accomplished college freshmen ever — before even playing a match for North Carolina State, with whom she enrolled last year.
Shnaider’s junior pedigree is formidable: she has reached the girls’ doubles final of all four Grand Slams with four different partners, winning three of them (Wimbledon 2021 with Kristina Dmitruk, the Australian Open 2022 with Clervie Ngounoue and the US Open 2022 with Lucie Havlickova). Her transition to the pros has also been spectacular. Unranked at the start of October 2021, Shnaider compiled a 58-16 record in 2022 and has needed just 15 months to rocket to her current career high of No.105.
Indeed, Shnaider — whose game is anchored around a lethal left-handed forehand — has surged nearly 100 places in the last three months alone. She notched her first Top 100 victory over Panna Udvardy on the way to the Las Vegas ITF W60 final last October, and followed that with a maiden WTA 125 title in Montevideo in November. That form was also evident last week in her first Grand Slam qualifying campaign, which Shnaider navigated without the loss of a set, including a quality 6-4, 6-4 win over 2021 US Open junior champion Robin Montgomery.
The Moscow-born 18-year-old has said that her college decision was motivated in part by the global political situation and her fear that she would be unable to play professional tournaments. But for now, her rise is proving to be meteoric. Shnaider takes on Kristina Kucova in the first round, with a potential second-round meeting with Maria Sakkari at stake.
Lucrezia Stefanini (ITA)
Unusually, both WTA runners-up from the first week of 2023 followed that up with an Australian Open qualifying exit — and both of their conquerors went on to a main draw debut. Auckland finalist Rebeka Masarova fell 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to Lucrezia Stefanini in the second qualifying round last week, and the Italian advanced in her final round after Sachia Vickery retired due to an ankle injury.
Highlights: Stefanini d. Minella, 2021 Courmayeur R1 | Stefanini d. Linette, 2022 Monastir R1
Stefanini, 24, has made slow but steady progress ever since making her pro debut in 2014. She qualified for her first WTA main draw at Abu Dhabi 2021, and won her first tour-level match in Courmayeur the same year. She finished 2022 at No.142, her best year-end ranking to date, after a season that had seen her notch her first Top 100 win (over Magda Linette in Monastir) and win her first two ITF W60 titles (in Collonge-Bellerive and Caldas da Rainha, both in September).
Double-handed on both sides, Stefanini’s style is already an unusual one — and her Melbourne opener will be an extra-rare sight. Stefanini has been pitted against another player with an idiosyncratic game, Tatjana Maria and her single-handed backhand and web of slices, a combination that could have some of the highest curiosity value of the first round.
Moyuka Uchijima (JPN)
Moyuka Uchijima’s progress over the past year and a half can be measured in Monastir tournaments. In August 2021, the Japanese player returned from a 17-month Covid-19 hiatus on the lowest rung of the tennis ladder, sweeping her first two Monastir ITF W15 events. Just over a year later, the Jasmin Open Monastir was the site of her third tour-level main draw, her first Top 100 victory (over Petra Martic in the second round) and her first WTA quarterfinal.
Highlights: Uchijima d. Rakhimova, 2022 Monastir R1 | Uchijima d. Martic, 2022 Momastir R2
Overall, 2022 saw Uchijima compile a 54-28 record and cut her ranking from No.499 to No.105. She also reached the final qualifying round at two of her first three Grand Slam events, Roland Garros and the US Open, but the Malaysia-born 21-year-old has been able to bypass that stage in Melbourne. Just six spots out of the main draw cut, Uchijima received the tournament’s wild card reserved for Asian players, and will open against Bernarda Pera.
US Open 2022’s Grand Slam debuts: Linda Fruhvirtova, Bejlek, Erika Andreeva and more
Wimbledon 2022’s Grand Slam debuts: Chwalinska, Pigossi, Hontama and more
Roland Garros 2022’s Grand Slam debuts: Noskova, Niemeier, Jeanjean and more
Australian Open 2022’s Grand Slam debuts: Zheng Qinwen, Bondar, Bronzetti and more
US Open 2021’s Grand Slam debuts: Parrizas Diaz, Bucsa, Krueger and more
Wimbledon 2021’s Grand Slam debuts: Raducanu, Burrage
Roland Garros 2021’s Grand Slam debuts: Osorio, Liang, Gorgodze and more
Australian Open 2021’s Grand Slam debuts: Danilovic, Jones
Roland Garros 2020’s Grand Slam debuts: Tauson, Sherif, Rakhimova and more
US Open 2020’s Grand Slam debuts: Gracheva, Zavatska, Baptiste and more
Australian Open 2020’s Grand Slam debuts: Fernandez, Trevisan, Cocciaretto and more
US Open 2019’s Grand Slam debuts: Wang Xiyu, Volynets, Bolkvadze
Wimbledon 2019’s Grand Slam debuts: Gauff, McNally, Flink
Roland Garros 2019’s Grand Slam debuts: Rybakina, Samsonova, Parry and more
Australian Open 2019’s Grand Slam debuts: Swiatek, Badosa, Kudermetova and more
US Open 2018’s Grand Slam debuts: Teichmann, Yastremska, Bouzkova and more
Wimbledon 2018’s Grand Slam debuts: Ruse, Dart, Lapko and more
Roland Garros 2018’s Grand Slam debuts: Krejcikova, Dolehide, Jakupovic and more
Australian Open 2018’s Grand Slam debuts: Kostyuk, Pera, Wang Xinyu and more
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