Her mum is her self-taught coach, her dad takes her in mixed martial arts training, she’s a proud Samoan and supports the All Blacks, but Destanee Aiava is Australia’s brightest rising tennis star.
Eleven years after Serena Williams sparked her interest in a sport her parents knew nothing about, the Melbourne 16-year-old is looking the part and playing a power-game like her childhood idol.
Aiava on Sunday assured herself of performing in the main draw of two home tournaments this summer after blazing her way through the heat and past more experienced qualifying rivals at the Brisbane International.
With a wildcard already locked up for the Australian Open thanks to winning last month’s national under-18 girls title, she lost just a combined eight games by dominating her three qualifying matches in Brisbane.
The strong baseliner booked her place beside Samantha Stosur and Ashleigh Barty as the third Australian in the 30-strong women’s field in Brisbane by sweeping aside German world No.86 Carina Witthoeft 6-1 6-1.
Like many Polynesian footballers, Aiava, whose father Mark is a powerlifter who also coaches in MMA, is physically mature beyond her years and boasts biceps of which Stosur would be proud.
But her tennis skills have been honed by her mother Rosie, a former rugby player and kickboxer, who had to learn the game before teaching her talented daughter.
It was all a result of watching Williams win the 2005 Australian Open.
“I was, like, ‘I want to become No. 1 in the world’,” she said.
“It was just her (Williams’) vibe. Like, I couldn’t feel it from the other side of the TV, but it was just her energy, and that kind of drew me to the sport.
“And they’re like ‘Oh, tennis? Oh, we didn’t know anything about tennis’.”
Among her unconventional training methods is MMA cross-training and wearing tracksuits this summer to acclimatise for the heat on court, which soared to 35C as she closed out Witthoeft in 64 minutes.
Boasting a big serve and cracking forehand, she raced to 6-1 4-0 but was made to work hard to overcome the German and late match jitters.
Aiava will fancy her chances of continuing her purple patch against colourful American Bethanie Mattek-Sands who was forced to work much harder to come through qualifying.
World No.6 Karolina Pliskova was the first seed to win through to the second round by cruising past Kazakstan’s Yulia Putintseva 6-3-6-1.
But there were big-name casualties on day one action with Canadian Eugenie Bouchard and seventh-seeded Russian Elena Vesnina both falling.
Frenchwoman Alize Cornet came from behind to upset Vesnina 3-6 6-4 7-6 (7-5) while Bouchard, the former world No.5, lost 6-2 2-6 6-1 to American Shelby Rogers.
Another US player, Christina McHale, also won through to the second round with a 6-3 6-3 victory over Italy’s Sara Errani.