MELBOURNE, Australia - Kimberly Birrell was awarded a wildcard into next month's Australian Open after winning the playoff final in Melbourne on Sunday.
The 20-year-old eighth seed, born in Germany but an Australian national, beat Astra Sharma 6-4, 6-2 to secure her place in the main draw, representing a turnaround after elbow surgery two years ago.
"I’m feeling so happy, just so much joy," she said after her straight-sets victory. "And maybe a little bit of relief too. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity and I’m so glad I was able to take it.
"There were a little bit of nerves creeping in at the end – I just had to take it one point at a time. [Astra] has some really big weapons – she has really good serve and forehand. I just had to worry about my end of the court, just back myself, that whenever I got an opportunity I had to take it."
The opening Grand Slam tournament of 2019 will be Birrell's second appearance in the main event in Melbourne, having previously competed, again as a wildcard, three years ago. She went down in straight sets to ninth seed Karolina Pliskova in the first round.
"It really helps having been through the whole experience before. I played juniors, I’ve been around the environment. It’s not going to be anything new. And during that  Australian Open I played on Hisense Arena, one of the biggest courts in the world. I’m definitely going to draw on that experience.
"I’m going to enjoy this moment first, celebrate with my family, friends and coach, and then start working again. I have something amazing to look forward to, I’m just going to work really hard between now and then and hope to be ready to go.
"I think I’m a lot more confident now. When I step out onto the court I’ll not feel so overwhelmed. I’ve been around the world this year playing all four Grand Slams so looking forward to the challenge now."
Birrell joins three other confirmed wildcards in the women's main draw. Whitney Osuigwe is a US reciprocal, Shuai Peng, of China, made it through the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff and Priscilla Hon has qualified from the Australian Pro Tour. The tournament starts on Monday 14 January.
Destanee Aiava and Naiktha Bains were awarded a wildcard for the women's doubles after their 6-2, 6-3 playoff triumph over Astra Sharma and Isabella Wallace.