World number 288 Kimberly Birrell has earned a chance to play at her second Grand Slam event after winning the Australian Open Play-off at Melbourne Park, beating Astra Sharma 6-4 6-2 to secure a wild card for the upcoming first Major of the season.
Kimberly didn't lose a set this week and completed a great year, missing 11 months after an elbow injury in 2016 and fighting back from being ranked outside the top-1000 to crack the top-300 and win her first $60,000 title. Sharma was off to a solid start, scoring an early break for a 2-0 lead before Birrell grabbed six of the next eight games for a 6-2, gaining the momentum and hoping for more of the same in the rest of the encounter.
Kimberly earned another break at the start of the second set and she defended her lead after saving numerous break points in game two, making another big step towards the finish line. She was the dominant figure on the court in those moments, firing winners from both wings to open a 4-0 lead and bringing the match home from there to wrap up the win and secure the spot in the Melbourne draw for the first time in three years.
“So many mixed emotions – I think it all kind of hit me in the end, because I knew she was going to put up a fight until the very last point until we shook hands,” Birrell said. “So happy, and just so much joy, and maybe a little bit of relief too.Final result:
I’ve been waiting for this opportunity and I’m so glad that I was able to take it. It feels like such a long time ago now. I feel like I was a little baby,” Birrell said of her 2016 outing. But obviously, it really helps having been through the whole experience before.
I played juniors, I’ve been around the environment. It’s not gonna be anything new. And during that AO (in 2016) I played on Hisense Arena, one of the biggest courts in the world. I’m definitely gonna draw on that experience, for sure.
I’ve learned so much since then. It’s only been two years but it feels like kind of a lifetime ago because I’ve been through so much since then – coming off a surgery, and kind of almost starting from scratch.
I feel like I’ve just played so much more tennis since then; my body is completely different to what it was back then. I have so much more faith in myself, and that I can back up match after match and compete against the top girls.
There were a little bit of nerves creeping in at the end – I just had to take it one point at a time. She has some really big weapons – she obviously has a really good serve and really good forehand. I knew I just had to worry about my end of the court, kind of just back myself, that whenever I got an opportunity I just had to take it.
I’m gonna enjoy this moment first, celebrate with my family and friends and coach, because they’ve put in so much hard work too … and then start working again. I have something crazy awesome to look forward to.
Just gonna work really hard between now and then and hope to be ready to go.”
Kimberly Birrell vs Astra Sharma 6-4 6-2