MELBOURNE, Australia - On her 30th birthday, Arina Rodionova gave herself the best present: victory in this year's Australian Open Wildcard Playoff with a 6-4, 7-5 defeat of Storm Sanders, and a guaranteed berth in the main draw of the first Grand Slam of 2020.
Rodionova, the No.4 seed in the competition, dropped only one set in four matches, dispatching Sara Tomic 6-1, 6-2 in the first round and Olivia Tjandramulia 7-5, 6-0 in the quarterfinals before overcoming Belinda Woolcock 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in the semifinals. After defeating Australian compatriot Sanders, she told Tennis Australia: "I couldn't dream of a present like this. It's something amazing. I really was afraid to even think this might happen. I just didn't want to get myself too excited, and now I can just finally relax and enjoy the moment. Great day all around for me!"
Fourth seed @arinarodionova is the #AOPlayoff champion!— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) December 15, 2019
She holds off Storm Sanders 6-4 7-5 in an intense, high-quality battle — and earns an @AustralianOpen 2020 main draw wildcard. #AO2020 pic.twitter.com/qoPnyBWMvp
The victory made up for three previous lost finals in the playoff for Rodionova, who was runner-up to Casey Dellacqua in 2013, Daria Gavrilova in 2014 and Maddison Inglis in 2015. It puts the World No.205 into her fourth Australian Open main draw, having qualified in 2011 to make her Grand Slam debut and received a wildcard in 2015 and 2017. Rodionova's career-best Grand Slam performances to date have been second-round showings at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2017, the year she also reached her career high ranking of World No.116.
Despite the loss, the competition was also a positive one for 25-year-old Sanders, the former World No.202 who began a singles comeback after a two-year hiatus in October. Sanders has already scored the biggest title of her career at the Playford ITF W60 in November, and after three ranking tournaments is already back up to World No.376.
Rodionova joins Asia-Pacific Wildcard Playoff champion Han Na-Lae, USTA Wildcard Challenge winner CoCo Vandeweghe and French reciprocal wildcard recipient Pauline Parmentier as the fourth confirmed wildcard for the 2020 Australian Open, with four more to be announced.