Aiava ready for Aussie tennis spotlight

Teenage Brisbane International qualifier Destanee Aiava’s phone is running so hot with messages of support she’s almost scared to pick it up.

But there’ll be plenty more to come after the 16-year-old produced a stunning upset win over American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, one that has her marked as a star on the rise in Australian tennis.

Aiava completed a 2-6 6-3 6-4 victory on Tuesday, holding her nerve after heavy rain on Monday night forced play to be suspended.

The delay was a huge mental test against an experienced campaigner in the 31-year-old Mattek-Sands, and the crowd of approximately 2000 at the Queensland Tennis Centre’s show court one was the biggest she’s ever played in front of.

Likely to come next is a run on Pat Rafter Arena and then, later this month, a wildcard appearance at the Australian Open – and all the attention and hype that comes with it.

But the powerfully-built Aiava – who prefers the nickname ‘Des’ – reckons she’s ready to take it all in her stride.

“As long as I have a small circle of people that help me to stay grounded … I think (I can handle it),” she said.

Aiava’s father is a former powerlifter and mixed martial artist who looks after her strength and conditioning while her mother – a former rugby player and kickboxer – is a self-taught tennis coach.

Based in south-east Melbourne’s sprawling suburbs, neither had the faintest idea of where to begin when a five-year-old Aiava told them she wanted to be the world’s No.1 after watching Serena Williams on TV at the 2005 Australian Open.

Currently ranked No.387, she seems to possess all the tools needed to at least be in with a shot.

Her win over Mattek-Sands makes her the first player born after the year 2000 to win a WTA main draw match – and after struggling badly with her first serve when play resumed on Tuesday, up 3-0 ahead in the third set, she did it with an ace.

It only came after Aiava distracted herself overnight with food and music from Atlanta R&B artist 6LACK, whose debut album she spun on repeat to take her mind off the match.

Next up in the second round is Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two-time grand slam winner and the tournament’s fifth seed.

Aiava, meanwhile, is still pinching herself at who else she’s suddenly sharing a changeroom with.

“Pretty crazy. I walk in, and there is people I have watched on TV before and it’s, like, Oh…” she said.

Earlier, Czech world No.6 Karolina Pliskova became the first player to make the tournament’s final eight after a 6-1 6-4 win over America’s Asia Muhammad.

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