Wildcard Priscilla Hon pulled off a head-turning upset in front of her home crowd, coming from a set and a break down to oust Petra Kvitova 6-7(4), 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of the Adelaide International.
The 2-hour, 19-minute victory was Hon's first over a Top 20 player - and indeed, over a Top 40 player. Her previous best WTA-level performances were two quarterfinal runs in Seoul, in 2017 and 2019. Against Kvitova, she kept pace with one of the most renowned shotmakers on tour, scoring 46 winners to the Czech's 47, while keeping her unforced error count down to 21 compared to her opponent's 47.
The 23-year-old Australian was competing in her first WTA main draw since Lyon 2020. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she tore the labrum in her hip and was ultimately sidelined for 14 months. Hon compiled a 9-10 record in qualifying and ITF competition last year, and her ranking has fallen to No.263 from the career high of No.118 she set in October 2019.
Match management: The first indication that the unheralded Hon would be a handful was her spectacular first-set serving performance, in which she lost just one point behind her first delivery.
That wasn't until the tiebreak. But Kvitova had been similarly dominant behind her delivery, and when she finally landed a telling first-serve return, it paved the way to snatching a knife-edge first set. The former No.2 continued to make the most of her opportunities in the second set - her second point behind Hon's first serve brought up the first break point of the match, and her third sealed a 4-2 lead.
At that point, Kvitova's experience seemed to have saved the day - but she threw in her first loose service game of the day to lose her lead. An inspired Hon was supremely clutch at the end of the second set, breaking for 6-5 after four deuces and taking her third set point for 7-5 after three deuces when Kvitova netted a backhand.
Hon proceeded to dominate the start of the second set, winning 13 of the first 16 points to leap out to 4-0. Tracking Kvitova's fiercest blows with superb anticipation and defence, Hon also repeatedly drew the two-time Wimbledon champion into net before picking her off with passing shots. The final game of the match saw Kvitova deliver some valiant winners with her back to the wall, but a wide backhand sealed Hon's fourth match point.
Point of the match: "Hon" means "chase" in Czech, and that's exactly what the local player did to break Kvitova for 1-0 in the decider. Scampering from line to line, Hon denied Kvitova the putaway even as the World No.17 advanced to the net. A pinpoint lob got the rally back on Hon's terms, and Kvitova sent a forehand wide to lose an exchange that had seemingly been on her racquet.
In Hon's words: "I can't explain how much I've been waiting for this moment," she said in the on-court interview. "I was injured for almost a year, so I was even more pumped to come out on tour and focus on what I've been wanting to do for the past couple of years.
"Pretty proud about how I held up at the end - I've been working really hard on that and staying calm. Obviously top players don't give it to you, so you've really got to work hard for it."
What's next for Hon: She awaits the winner of the first-round barnburner between No.4 seed Paula Badosa and former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka.
Fernandez, Tomljanovic progress
US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez delivered a solid performance to defeat Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-3, 6-4 and set up a second-round clash against either No.5 seed Iga Swiatek or Daria Saville.
The 19-year-old Canadian did not face a break point throughout the match, and nailed key down-the-line winners on crucial points. By contrast, Alexandrova was undone by seven double faults and a cascade of errors off her forehand wing in particular.
Australian No.2 Tomljanovic, who reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon last year, continued to sustain that form with a 6-4, 7-6(5) defeat of Heather Watson. At least three home players will contest the Adelaide Round of 16, with Tomljanovic and Hon joining No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty, who received a first-round bye. Qualifiers Saville and Maddison Inglis will bid to join them on Tuesday.