MELBOURNE, Australia - Home hopes Destanee Aiava, Ellen Perez and Zoe Hives have been awarded the last three main draw wildcards for this year's Australian Open, which starts on Monday January 14.
All three Australians scored impressive WTA-level wins in the opening week of the season. 18-year-old Aiava, long considered one of her country's top prospects, made the most noise at the Brisbane International, battling through three qualifying rounds before upsetting former World No.10 Kristina Mladenovic in the main draw, falling only to second seed Naomi Osaka.
Aiava also qualified and won a round in Brisbane as a 16-year-old in 2017, and last year pushed World No.1 Simona Halep to a first set tiebreak in Melbourne before falling 7-6(5), 6-1. Her Brisbane run this week is cause for optimism after a disappointing 2018 saw the teenager sink from No.150 to No.249 in the rankings; it will already see Aiava rebound into the Top 200.
23-year-old Perez was a college tennis standout at the University of Georgia before turning pro in 2017 - and since then, she has been steadily making her mark in the pro ranks. A career-best win over Mladenovic in Sydney last year was the springboard to a season that culminated in four consecutive ITF finals and a year-end ranking of No.181; this week, Perez has continued brightly, winning a round over Alexa Guarachi in Auckland qualifying and taking a set off former World No.27 Laura Siegemund before falling 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
The Australian Open will be Perez's debut at her home Slam - but her second main draw of a major, having received Tennis Australia's reciprocal wildcard at the 2016 US Open.
22-year-old Hives also had a strong 2018 season, raising her ranking from No.384 to a career high of No.215 and winning three ITF titles; this week, she defeated former US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in Brisbane qualifying before pushing teenage sensation Anastasia Potapova all the way in a 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 defeat.
Aiava, Perez and Hives join five previously-announced main draw wildcards at the opening major of the season. Kimberly Birrell, conqueror of Daria Kasatkina in Brisbane this week, was the winner of last month's playoff in Melbourne; former World No.14 Peng Shuai won the Asia-Pacific Wildcard Playoff in Zhuhai in December; Priscilla Hon was awarded a wildcard for standout performances on the Australian ITF circuit; while France's Clara Burel and the USA's Whitney Osuigwe were recipients of reciprocal wildcards.