MELBOURNE, Australia - 15-year-old Marta Kostyuk needed just two sets against local wildcard Olivia Rogowska to reach the third round in her Australian Open debut.
Last year’s Australian Open Junior champion, Kostyuk made it 11 victories in a row in Melbourne, backing up her first-round upset of No.25 seed Peng Shuai to defeat the Aussie favorite 6-3, 7-5 on Margaret Court Arena.
“I was lucky that I played [Junior] finals on Rod Laver last year,” the Ukrainian explained in her post-match press conference. “I kind of knew how is it to play on the big court.
“I was pretty tight in the beginning, but not in the shots; more in the serve. I was struggling, because it's different. Serve is the most difficult to get used to in different [conditions].”
Kostyuk’s Junior victory earned her a wildcard into the Australian Open qualifying rounds, and she fought through three tough, three-set battles to reach the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time. Her victory over Peng made her the youngest player to win a round at the Australian Open since Martina Hingis’s quarterfinal run in 1996.
If she felt any fatigue from playing so many matches in a row, Kostyuk hardly showed it against her opponent, 26-year-old wildcard Rogowska. The Aussie won the Australian Wildcard Challenge to enter the main draw, and was looking to reach the third round for the first time ever.
The Ukrainian made an aggressive start, grabbing the early break and consolidating to 4-1 before the Melbourne crowd could even start their “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” chants. Kostyuk punished the second serves that Rogowska offered up generously with her all-or-nothing tennis, blasting winners off both wings.
But Kostyuk’s own service woes almost sabotaged her efforts - she struggled to close out any service game without one or more doubles faults, finishing the match with eleven in total - allowed Rogowska to break back and get them back on serve.
After breaking late in the set to take a 5-3 lead, Kostyuk faced a bit of a late wobble closing it out. She had four set points, but a spate of errors - including another double fault - and impatient hitting - threatened to extend the Aussie’s stay in the set, but Kostyuk finally put an end to proceedings and ripped a trademark forehand winner to take the set.
In the second, Kostyuk grabbed another early lead and seemed to be marching straight into round three when it looked like the fatigue from five matches in a row finally caught up to her. A niggle in her strapped-up left ankle made her suddenly sluggish, and she struggled to take the balls early as she’d done in the first set.
Rogoswka finally broke back at 4-4 to level the match at a crucial moment, but the 15-year-old bounced back with aplomb. Kostyuk notched another break of serve to avoid the tiebreaker before taking the match in straight sets, in an hour and 30 minutes.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 17, 2018
“I struggled today to find any rhythm, to settle down,” Rogowska explained after the match. “My serve percentage was pretty low today. But credit to her, she was just firing balls right at me. As soon as I served, a ball was at my feet. She did that really well today.
“I tried my hardest to settle down as fast as I could. There was a brief moment where I did settle down and kind of let my game… But it was just nerves today, no footwork. I knew what I had to do, I just couldn't really execute it today.”
Kostyuk advances to play No.4 seed and fellow Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, who defeated Katerina Siniakova in three sets.
“I will just enjoy it,” she said. “I think I'm going to play on big court again, but I will just try to show my best tennis.
“Like, all my opponents, she will struggle a little bit, and I will try to use this. That's what I'm going to do. I know a little bit how Elina is playing, but I still didn't go to the details.
“I feel like with every match, I'm doing better and better.”