Storm Sanders is celebrating a place in her first grand slam main draw outside Australia after the Rockhampton southpaw battled through qualifying at the French Open.
Sanders, who’s enjoyed a real breakthrough year after a decade of battling on the circuit, defeated Switzerland’s Susan Bandecchi 7-5 7-5 on Friday to negotiate her way past the last of three qualifying hurdles without dropping a set.
A year that really kicked off superbly for her when she reached her first-ever WTA singles quarterfinal in Adelaide now sees the 26-year-old looking forward to an overseas slam debut after four times having been knocked out in the first round in Melbourne.
It will be a tough ask for Sanders to break her grand slam duck as she has been given a particularly difficult first round opener against Elise Mertens, Belgium’s 14th seed.
But being the only Australian among the dozen in the qualifying draw who actually made it through to the main fortnight is a considerable achievement in itself for the woman who now joins Ash Barty, Ajla Tomljanovic and wildcard Astra Sharma in the women’s main draw.
Six Australian men, led by national No.1 Alex de Minaur, will also be in the main field when the action gets under way on Sunday.
After winning her first two matches for the loss of just 10 games, Sanders expected, and received, a much tougher morning against the Swiss Bandecchi, who’d knocked out former Wimbledon semi-finalist Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round.
Sanders was broken in the first game of the first set on Friday but responded with two breaks of her own to take the opening stanza in 53 minutes only for Bandecchi to power into a 4-1 lead in the second and serve for the set at 5-4.
Sanders, though, broke the Swiss twice in the last three games to win the arm wrestle after one hour 48 minutes.
Having started the year ranked only 282nd in the world, Sanders has now rocketed to a career-high 161, with the chance of improving that if she can oust Mertens, the 2018 Australian Open semi-finalist and last year’s US Open quarter-finalist.