BRISBANE, Australia - No.283 Kimberly Birrell of Australia scored a huge upset on Day 1 of the Brisbane International, rallying from 3-5 down in the final set to stun World No.10 Daria Kasatkina 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(3) in the first round. The 20-year-old wildcard notched her first Top 10 win in just the fourth tour-level main draw match of her career.
"It still hasn't really sunk in," a smiling Birrell told reporters. "I'm just really excited that I get to play again. I'm on a massive high at the moment."
Pounding a world-class backhand through Kasatkina's defenses, the Gold Coast native who honed her skills on the courts of the Queensland Tennis Center steeled herself to break as the Russian served for the match at 5-4 and then played a pitch-perfect tiebreak as the home crowd willed her to the win.
"They helped me so much," Birrell said. "I don't know if I could have gotten through it at the end without everyone's support and just the energy, and to have my first Top 10 win.
"I train on that court so many times and there were so many familiar faces in the crowd, so it means the world to have my family and everyone's support. It's awesome."
Birrell's road to the biggest moment of her young career has been a rocky one. A promising junior who made semifinals of the 2014 Australian Open junior event, she was forced to undergo elbow surgery in 2016, an injury that would effectively wipe out her ranking. By February of 2017 she had fallen out of the Top 1,000 and has had to grind away on the ITF circuit ever since.
Earlier this month, Birrell won the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff to earn a spot in the main draw of her home Slam and the confidence gained from that run was on full display in the late stages of the match, which lasted over 3 hours.
"Yeah, absolutely [I believed I could win]. I think you definitely can't beat yourself before walking out on to the court or there's no point in walking through that gate.
"I think I owed it to myself, first and foremost. I owed it to my coach, my family, and Tennis Australia for giving me the opportunity to play. I knew that I've been playing good tennis. I definitely believed in myself, sure."
"It definitely hasn't been an easy journey. Two years ago I probably hadn't even picked up a racquet in three months. So I didn't know where I I was going to end up, but I tried putting in a lot of time in the gym.
"I never had any doubt that tennis was what I wanted to do, and I have done a lot of work to get back to where I am now.
"But, yeah, we dream about moments like this. So I'm definitely going to take it all in and just enjoy this experience."
The daughter of a tennis coach who found herself growing up surrounded by courts - her parents run a tennis club on the Gold Coast - Birrell is finally seeing the fruit of what has almost felt like a life meant for the sport.
"My dad played and coaches," she said. "And then my mom also played. And on my mom's side my grandparents played, and my grandpa built a tennis court for my mom and my mom's sister at their farm. So we always joke around that it's kind of in my DNA.
"In saying that, though, they never forced it on my brother and I. We just spent a lot of time around tennis courts, and we both fell in love with it and I'm very lucky to share a passion with my parents, and we have an awesome relationship."
Birrell will play Lesia Tsurenko in the second round.