Destanee calls as generations collide
Last week, Destanee Aiava became the first player born this millennium to win a maindraw match at a WTA event.
Next week, the 16-year-old Australian will be the first player born in the 2000s to play in the main draw at a Grand Slam tournament, thanks to a wild-card entry to the Australian Open.
This week, the highlight has been hitting with Serena Williams, the 22-time Grand Slam champion and the inspiration for Aiava’s career.
Aiava was five years old when she watched one of the Williams’ matches on TV, and told her parents that tennis was going to be her career.
Her parents took her seriously, and her mother became her learn-as-she-goes coach.
On Thursday, the 35-yearold Williams did a promotional appearance for her racket sponsor on Margaret Court Arena, including a hit- Draw for Chinese women’s players up against the Melbourne schoolgirl.
Asked what it was like to hit with the six-time Australian Open winner, Aiava paused for a while before Williams chimed in with an answer for her: “Great.”
Aiava laughed, admitting she was more nervous meeting Williams than she had been playing in an exhibition tournament earlier in the day.
“It’s actually one of the best days of my life,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of fun today, getting to hit with Serena. Hopefully there’ ll be more opportunities like this in future.”
Williams is seeded No 2 at Melbourne Park, where she lost the final last year to Angelique Kerber. She lost the French Open final to Garbine Muguruza before winning Wimbledon to equal Steffi Graf ’s Open-era record of 22 major titles.
Aiava, who was born on May 10, 2000, and was No 386 at the start of the season, has already met the long-retired Graf, her prize for winning the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament in Paris in 2012.
After her first-round win in Brisbane last week, she lost to two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova. So she’s getting more comfortable in elite company.
The arena where she hit with Williams carries the name of the woman who holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles — Margaret Court won 24 from 1960 to 1973 in a career that spanned the amateur and Open eras.
Williams is aiming for 23 when the Aussie Open starts on Monday and, with her competitive spirit, there’s little doubt there’s another target for her in the future.
For now, though, she’s not prepared to mention those milestones.
“I’m not talking about that,” Williams said on Thursday, despite some extra urging. “I said I’m not talking about that, move on.”
Williams drew a challenging first-round opponent in Belinda Bencic and also had No 9 Johanna Konta, No 17 Caroline Wozniacki and No 6 Dominika Cibulkova in her quarter.
Top-ranked Angelique Kerber, who beat Serena in last year’s final and also won the US Open to finish the year at No 1, will open against Lesia Tsurenko.
Peng Shuai (CHN) vs Daria Kasatkina (RUS x23)
Zhang Shuai (CHN x20) vs Qualifier
Duan Yingying (CHN) vs Qualifier
Zheng Saisai (CHN) vs Danka Kovinic (MNE)
Wang Qiang (CHN) vs Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO)
Hsieh Su-wei (TPE) vs Karin Knapp (ITA)
Han Xinyun (CHN) vs Irina Falconi (USA)
Southern Methodist University’s Ben Moore (left), Cincinnati Bearcats’ Troy Caupain (second from left), Sterling Brown, Semi Ojeleye (33) and SMU’s Jacob Evans (1) scramble for possession in the final second of their NCAA college game, on Thursday, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati won 66-64.