Teenage sensation Marta Kostyuk was hailed as the “future of tennis” Wednesday after she became the youngest Australian Open second-round winner since Martina Hingis in 1996.
The 15-year-old was rewarded with an all-Ukrainian clash against fourth seed Elina Svitolina as her fairytale run at the year’s first Grand Slam continued with a win over local wildcard Olivia Rogowska 6-3, 7-5.
It had commentators gushing that Kostyuk was “the future of tennis” as she extended her win streak at Melbourne Park to an incredible 11 matches after lifting the Australian Open girls’ title in 2017 and coming through qualifying this year.
“This is the future, ladies and gentlemen. 15 years of age,” said former British number one Sam Smith on Australia’s Channel 7. “This is an incredible story. This is the future of tennis on your screen.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2018
Before the start of this week Kostyuk’s total career prize money was $6,733, but she already has plans for the bumper $142,500 pay day she will earn even if she loses to Svitolina in the third round.
“Maybe I will get presents for my family, first of all, of course, because I have big family,” she said. “And then for myself a bit. Yeah.”
Playing since the age of five and watched by tennis-playing mum and coach Talina Beyko, who once reached 391st in the world, in her player’s box on Margaret Court Arena, Kostyuk said she had been used to setting new standards.
“I think I broke some records every year so I feel okay about it,” she said.
In the first round she had dismantled Chinese number one and 25th seed Peng Shuai in straight sets in just 57 minutes.
The talented Kostyuk continued in the same vein against Rogowska, taking the first set in 39 minutes.
“I didn’t feel like she was 15 at all,” said Rogowska. “I feel she’s going to be a dangerous player when she grows up. Obviously she had some silly errors, I think with experience she’ll clean that up.”
Svitolina clearly knows what to expect when she faces her young compatriot on Friday.
“I little bit watched her first round,” said the world number four after coming through a three-set battle against Katerina Siniakova.
“You know, she has nothing to lose, she goes just for everything. You know, a little bit like a headless chicken.”
The youngster is managed by former player Ivan Ljubicic, Roger Federer’s coach, and said she was pleased to have such experience in her corner.
“He is always helping me, telling me what was wrong, even when I win,” she said laughing. “I am lucky to have his experience.”
And long hours of practice, she said, was the key to her success.
“Well, I heard a lot of times that I’m talented, and I know that,” she told reporters with all the swagger of confident youth.
“But I know that only talent will not help me to play good. So I can say that I’m working pretty hard.”
The three-time Grand Slam winner had a mid-match wobble before eliminating Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7/2) in 2hr 47min on Hisense Arena.
It was a confidence booster for the 2014 Melbourne Park champion, who had a troubled lead-in to the year’s opening Grand Slam, pulling out of an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi on his way to Australia.
The Swiss star, who defeated Rafael Nadal to win the 2014 Australian Open, has slipped to nine in the world rankings, having not played since his first-round Wimbledon loss to Russian Daniil Medvedev six months ago.
But Wawrinka was heartened by the first examination of his still painful knee at the year’s opening Grand Slam.
“It’s great to be back. It’s great to win, for sure,” he said.
“It was a tough one in all aspects of the game, but in general, I’m really happy to get through a match like that, to fight the way I did today, to win the match like this.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 16, 2018
Wawrinka admitted he was still experiencing pain but was relieved his knee had stood up to the physical demands.
“I still have some pain. It depends the way I’m moving, how I push on it,” he said.
“In general, it’s going the right direction. That’s the best news. To see that I can play a match with the stress, back being tight, without hesitation.
“The knee didn’t move even after three hours, so that’s great.”
The Swiss star, who next plays American Tennys Sandgren, said his plan was to keep going as far as he can to raise his fitness levels.
“I don’t think I will change much. The plan is to play a bit more if the knee is keeping (together) because I didn’t play for six months,” he said.
“First was to come here, see if I was able to play. I won the first match. I’m going to focus on the tournament.
“I know that after that, I have a lot of work to do. I need to be really patient because I have a lot of fitness and practice to do if I want to get back to my level.”
Defending champion Roger Federer dazzled under the Australian Open lights to waltz through to the second round with a straight sets win over Aljaz Bedene on Tuesday.
The ageless Swiss marvel, rated as the favourite to win his 20th Grand Slam title, thrilled the Rod Laver Arena crowd with a virtuoso performance.
The second seed cruised to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win in 1hr 39min and will next play German Jan-Lennard Struff.
It improved his Australian Open record to 88-13 in his 19th campaign Down Under.
Federer, who insists he is too old at 36 to be rated the tournament favourite, put away the 51st-ranked Slovenian with a catalogue of his signature shot-making.
“My dream was always to play a long time on tour and we had a few guys playing a long time and I think that inspired me,” he said post-match.
“I’m loving it and hopefully I can play for a little longer.”
Ron Burgundy: “Have you ever tasted wombat food? It is delicious! The national food of Australia.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 16, 2018
Federer raced to the first set in 26 minutes and claimed the second on his fourth set point as Bedene raised his level.
The Swiss great thrilled the centre court night crowd with an exquisite curving forehand down the line and past Bedene for another service break early in the final set.
Federer is coming off an extraordinary 2017, when he won a fifth Australian Open title and a record eighth at Wimbledon, and the way things are shaping there could be yet more glory with his main threats scrambling to be ready.
It was in Melbourne a year ago where he lit the fuse on his late-life Tennis renaissance, beating Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Mischa Zverev and Stan Wawrinka before downing great rival Rafael Nadal in a five-set final classic.
“I was thinking a lot about what happened at the tournament last year because it was my favourite tournament of the whole season … it was such a surprise,” Federer said.
“I’m hoping for it to go well again, I’m not sure it can go this well because last year was so good.
“I’m a year older and guys are coming back … I can’t control it all.
“Last year was last year … it could be my favourite year of my career. I’ll keep working hard and see what happens at the end.”