Astra Sharma took more than two hours to wear down fellow Australian and wildcard entrant Priscilla Hon in the first round of the women’s singles at the Australian Open on Monday.
The West Australian kept her dream week alive at Melbourne Park with a typically dogged display of grit and determination to prevail 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 on a hot court seven where the temperature hovered around 30 degrees.
Sharma had won three qualifying rounds last week to enter the main draw-saving five match points in the last match.
The Vanderbilt University player said that it felt great to be in the “big time” after holding her first ever press conference in the main interview room.
“It is my first (Grand) slam singles draw so it is special – I feel really grateful,” she said.
The match went with serve in the first set until Sharma broke Hon in the ninth game to lead 5-4. Hon was not going away and broke straight back with some blistering returns of serve to even the match at five games all.
Hon again showed her true grit when she saved a set point at 30-40 with a second serve ace, but Sharma dug in to break again and take the set in 48 minutes.
A controversial line-call challenge by Sharma in the first game of the second set handed Hon the early break to lead 1-0. Sharma stopped playing to challenge a backhand drive down the line from Hon that appeared wide. In the throws of the challenge, Hon had hit a forehand winner down the line which was the ball that hawk-eye analysed – not the call Sharma had challenged.
Sharma showed graciousness in accepting the call to lose the game, but it just served to spur her on to break straight back in the next. The earlier pattern of the match continued with Sharma’s booming 175 kph serve being met by Hon’s equally stinging returns.
Hon asserted her authority by breaking Sharma again in the seventh game to lead 5-3 and served out the set with a second serve ace.
Both players took a ten-minute break at the end of the second set, with Sharma donning a fresh outfit immediately on the front foot racing to a 3-0 lead. Hon was visibly fading in the heat and bailed out on two long rallies with desperate drop shots that Sharma easily ran down for winners.
The end was nigh for Hon when Sharma broke her again to lead 5-1, with the relentless West Australian serving out the match courtesy to two aces in excess of 180k/ph.
Sharma advances to the second round today, where she will play Greek number one, Maria Sakkari who is in hot form on the back of her Hopman Cup debut.