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Aiava stems tide of Australian WTA exits

Former teenage prodigy Destanee Aiava is ready to again make her mark in Melbourne after notching an impressive first-round win in an Australian Open warm-up tournament.

Aiava burst on to the scene as a 16-year-old when she won a wildcard into the 2017 Open – the first player born in the 21st century to play at a grand slam.

While she hasn’t moved past the first round at the Open in her four attempts, the now 20-year-old showed her array of talents against France’s Chloe Paquet with a 6-1 4-6 6-4 victory.

It reversed the trend of early exits by Australian women in the Open lead-in tournaments – the Gippsland Trophy and Yarra Valley Classic – which are being run concurrently at Melbourne Park this week.

Daria Gavrilova also joined the Aussie exodus on Monday night, the 26-year-old no match for 23-times grand slam champion Serena Williams.

In her first outing in more than four months, Williams won 6-1 6-4 in a trouble-free start to her 2021 season.

World No.6 Karolina Pliskova also advanced to the last 16, the Czech downing Italy’s Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-3 6-2.

In other results, American 16-year-old Coco Gauff, who reached the fourth round of the Open last year, had to work hard for a tough win 6-3 6-7 (8-6) 7-6 (7-5) over Swiss Jil Teichmann.

Aiava’s victory put her on track for a third-round meeting with world No.2 Simona Halep, although first the Romanian must get past German veteran Laura Siegemund.

Aiava said she was thrilled to get back out on court after not playing a competition match in a year.

“I think I played as well as I could have,” she said.

“It was a tough first match and I obviously haven’t played in a while but I was just really excited to compete and get the win today.”

Ranked 218, Aiava said she had no expectations of herself for the Open but desperately wanted a first-round win.

“I do have a little bit more experience behind me playing in these WTAs and slams now and I’m feeling quite comfortable now, feeling like I belong here,” she said.

“This help with my AO preparation as well and that’s the main tournament I’m looking forward to but every win’s a great feeling.”

Her success followed an earlier loss by Ajla Tomljanovic, who fell to another French player, Alize Cornet.

Australia’s No.2 behind world No.1 Ash Barty, Tomljanovic got off to a flying start before Cornet clawed her way back to eke out a 5-7 6-1 6-3 victory in a grinding contest on Margaret Court Arena.

Barty is in action on Tuesday after a first-round bye and will take on Romanian world No.93 Ana Bogdan.

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