When Daria Gavrilova broke serve for a 10-9 lead in the deciding set against Kristina Mladenovic in their third round on Friday, the Russian-turned-Aussie quickly put her finger to her lips, asking the crowd not to applaud her opponent’s double fault.
Almost three hours into what had been a brutal battle, Gavrilova’s class shone through in the tightest of moments.
The 21-year-old had failed to close out the match earlier on her serve but did not falter the second time around, as she overcame the talented Mladenovic to reach the fourth round at a grand slam for the first time in her career.
Gavrilova, the WTA’s Newcomer of the Year award recipient who rose almost 200 spots in the rankings in 2015 to get to her current position at No39, has been gaining plenty of fans over the past 10 days in Melbourne, especially when the home crowd realised she officially became an Aussie citizen last month.
Feisty, confident, and all about heart, Gavrilova will face No10 seed Carla Suarez Navarro on Sunday looking to continue her fairytale run.
She admits it was tough to get some shut-eye after her marathon win over Mladenovic, but was able to get some fun on court when she played mixed doubles with her Aussie boyfriend Luke Saville in the first round Saturday (they lost to Yaroslava Shvedova and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi).
“It was unbelievable, last night I couldn’t sleep at all, I was so hyped up. Just winning that match point was the best feeling,” said Gavrilova of her Mladenovic victory.
“I don’t feel any pressure, but I really want to keep going and keep winning. I’m just building my own pressure.”
Gavrilova has been living in Australia for almost four years and got her passport in December. She left Russia when she was 12 years old to pursue tennis and spent time training in Paris, at the Mouratoglou Academy, as well as Germany before relocating to the southern hemisphere.
She says her parents have been texting her “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi, oi, oi” but in Russian alphabet to support her throughout the past week and she has embraced all the local chants and cheers that have come her way.
“I’ve been living here for almost four years and I absolutely love it. Everyone has welcomed me, so I feel Australian,” said Gavrilova, who is commonly known as Dasha.
“I get a bit of attention now. I don’t mind it to be honest. I love the crowd, and I love to put on a show.”
Gavrilova made waves last year with three top-10 victories – over Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Lucie Safarova – and she kicked off 2016 by winning the Hopman Cup alongside Nick Kyrgios and now making the fourth round in Melbourne, toppling the sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova en route.
She may not have received the kind of attention someone like Kyrgios has been getting in Melbourne, but former player and current tennis pundit, Rennae Stubbs believes all eyes will be on Gavrilova moving forward.
“She’ll get attention,” Stubbs told Sport360. “She said it the other day when she said she can beat anyone, she’s definitely a player that believes in herself, that’s the bottom line.
“How far can she go? Top-10 for sure. Because I think she has the guts of a top-10 player and that’s key. She’s a great kid, she works hard, she’s had her ups and downs, she had knee surgery early in her career and she’s come back from that, so she’s resilient that’s for sure.
“She’s just gutsy, she doesn’t pull off a shot, she keeps going. Her serve is quite good for someone who is small. She’s willing to move forward. Everything she does is really tough and solid. She doesn’t do anything big, she doesn’t have a big weapon but her weapon is her legs and her heart and she runs a million balls down. She’s kind of like a (Caroline) Wozniacki type of a player with that real big energy and fire.
“She already knows that what she suffered with last year was just getting too excited in the grand slams. She’s already in the fourth round here, she’s learned her lessons and hopefully she’ll just keep getting better.”
Gavrilova, who is bidding to become the first Australian woman to make the Melbourne quarter-finals since Jelena Dokic in 2009, says she is not worried about recovering from her tough third round.
She knows she’s in for some long rallies with Suarez Navarro and believes “whoever is more aggressive is going to win.”
Suarez Navarro, who is back in the fourth round of a slam for the first time since Roland Garros 2014, feels she’s getting back on track after a sub-par second half of 2015.
She beat Gavrilova in their only previous meeting in Tokyo 2014 but is wary of the constantly-improving Aussie.
“It will be tough. I know her really well, she fights a lot. She’s really happy on court, she plays with the crowd really well,” said Suarez Navarro. “But I think I’m ready for that match, I want to enjoy it. I want to play on Rod Laver Arena.”