Destined for WTA records: Destanee Aiava’s 1st main draw win
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Her name is Destanee, and she’s a teenager with a record that nobody born in this millennium can match.
The 16-year-old Destanee Aiava advanced through qualifying before becoming the first player born in the 2000s to win a main draw match at an elite WTA event, beating veteran American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday in a first-round match at the Brisbane International.
She’s set for another memorable mark, too, after being granted a wild-card entry to the Australian Open starting Jan. 16 in her hometown of Melbourne. Aiava is set to become the first player born in the 2000s to play a main draw match at a Grand Slam event.
Her first win in the main draw didn’t come easily, spanning two days and giving her plenty of time to think about it.
Heavy rain forced a postponement on Monday night when she led 3-0, 40-15 in the third set.
Aiava struggled with her serve briefly on resumption Tuesday, but overcame a couple of double-faults and held on to close out with an ace on her first match point.
“Struggled a bit at the end, but I got through it,” Aiava said.
The 31-year-old Mattek-Sands played her first Grand Slam match at the U.S. Open in 2001 and has played her home major every year but one since then.
Aiava, who was born on May 10, 2000 and was No. 386 in the latest rankings, is at the start of her tennis journey. It will continue with a second-round match against 31-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion who is seeded No. 5 at the Brisbane tournament.
Aiava had already brushed shoulders with some stars of tennis. In 2012, she won the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament in Paris and her prize was an opportunity to hit with 22-time Grand Slam winner Steffi Graf.
Still, the Melbourne high school senior has had to come to terms with meeting star players in the locker room for the main draw, which is far different to the qualifying tournaments.
“Pretty crazy. I walk in, and there is people I have watched on TV before and it’s, like, Oh!”
Aiava grew up in Australia to parents of Samoan heritage. Her mother, Rosie, is a self-taught tennis coach and has guided her daughter since she showed interest in the game at age 5. Her father, Mark, is a power lifter who handles her strength and conditioning training. They both keep her teenage daughter grounded.
For instance, Aiava was asked what words of wisdom her mother imparted after the historic win.
“She just said, ‘good job,’ and took me to the practice court,” Aiava said. She spent the following 20 minutes working on her serve and “just getting some rhythm back into my hitting again.”
Aiava knows she’s attracting wider attention than ever now, particularly with a first name tailor-made for headline writers, but said she’s trying to keep her preparations tight for the Australian Open. For the record, she said she prefers to be known by the abbreviated name, Des.
“As long as I have a small circle of people that help me to stay grounded,” she said, adding that she wasn’t surprised how she matched up with Mattek-Sands after an admittedly tight start in the first set. “That’s what I have been working really hard on getting my game to a professional level.”