Ash and Alex show kicks off Open sea­son for fresh-faced Aussies

The Australian - - SLOW BOAT TO CHINA - COURT­NEY WALSH

For a decade, hopes of a home­grown Aus­tralian Open cham­pion have rested on — and faded with — the stut­ter­ing Sam Sto­sur, at-times lack­adaisi­cal Bernard Tomic and com­bustible Nick Kyr­gios.

This year brings fresh-faced hopes in 19-year-old Alex de Min­aur and Ash Barty, 22, who yes­ter­day led a charge of Aus­tralians into the sec­ond round at Mel­bourne Park.

Barty’s cam­paign started with the briefest blip when she dropped the open­ing two games to Luk­sika Kumkhum from Thai­land. But the 15th seed soon re­gained her bril­liance to win 6-2 6-2 last night. John Mill­man be­came the eighth Aus­tralian vic­tor on a bright open­ing day for the host na­tion, beat­ing Ar­gentina’s Fed­erico Del­bo­nis 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

De Min­aur, Aus­tralia’s topranked male player, over­came the de­mands of play­ing three matches in as many days to cruise through to the sec­ond round. And three young Aus­tralian women an­nounced their ar­rival on the scene with stun­ning first-round vic­to­ries.

The past 72 hours have been a whirl­wind for 19-year-old De Min­aur, who proved too tal­ented for Por­tu­gal’s Pe­dro Sousa, in his third match in as many days, hav­ing won two matches on the same day to claim a maiden tour ti­tle in Syd­ney. Com­plaints about hav­ing to play on the open­ing day of the Open were long for­got­ten as De Min­aur de­clared he was “stoked” with his vic­tory. “This is why you put in the hard yards in the pre­sea­son, to be able to back it up day in and day out,” he said.

A trio of young women, As­tra Sharma, Zoe Hives and Kim­ber­ley Bir­rell en­joyed the big­gest mo­ments of their ca­reers yes­ter­day.

Five years ago, Sharma moved from Perth to Ten­nessee on a ten­nis schol­ar­ship. At the time, a ca­reer as an or­thopaedic sur­geon ap­peared more likely than slic­ing and dic­ing with the world’s best ten­nis play­ers. But a coach at Van­der­bilt Univer­sity noted her ath­leti­cism and con­vinced her a ca­reer on the court might be pos­si­ble. The ca­pac­ity crowd who wit­nessed her beat Queens­lan­der Priscilla Hon in a thrilling three-set­ter would be just as con­vinced.

GETTY IM­AGES

Ash Barty cel­e­brates after win­ning her match against Luk­sika Kumkhum last night

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