Australian tennis has a new rising star with teenager Destanee Aiava blazing her way into the main draw of the Brisbane International.
Queensland’s scorching heat and more-experienced rivals have not bothered Aiava this weekend as she continues a purple patch of form that defies her years.
The Melbourne 16-year-old joins Samantha Stosur and Ashleigh Barty as the third Australian in the 30-strong women’s field, after sweeping aside German world No.86 Carina Witthoeft 6-1 6-1 in Sunday’s final qualifying round.
Aiava, a powerful baseliner coached by her Samoan-born mother Rosie, took just 64 minutes to close out the match in 35-degree heat.
Her maiden WTA appearance comes on the back of winning a wildcard into the Australian Open by taking out last month’s Australian under-18 championships.
She lost a mere eight games combined in her three qualifying matches at the Queensland Tennis Centre (QTC), beating American world No.113 Samantha Crawford, Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Witthoeft all in straight sets.
Against the 21-year-old Witthoeft, Aiava showcased a powerful forehand and reliable serve, while supported by her mother, a former kickboxer, and family on QTC’s exposed court six.
She raced to 6-1 4-0 in quick time but was made to work hard to close out the match after the German broke back as some nerves took hold.
But Aiava, helped by a pivotal overrule by the chair umpire in the sixth game, then ground out the next two tense games in the draining heat.
Like many Polynesian footballers, Aiava, whose father Mark is a New Zealand powerlifter, is physically mature beyond her years and can boast biceps of which Stosur would be proud.
She will find out her first-round opponent later on Sunday but is a 50 per cent chance of playing another qualifier.