Hard-working Gavrilova symbol of Australian women’s tennis resurgence; Kyrgios of its men’s decline
The 23-year-old’s stellar season is indicative of the progress the women’s game is making in Australia, while Kyrgios’ behaviour in Shanghai highlights how far the men still have to go
Daria Gavrilova progressed to the quarter-finals at the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open on Wednesday with a solid win over Shelby Rogers as she continues her strong form in what has undoubtedly been her best season on the WTA tour.
The 23-year-old is now locked in a domestic battle with fellow Australian Ashleigh Barty to see who will end the season as her country’s number one player.
It has been a strong year for Australian women’s tennis in general with both Gavrilova and Barty making great strides in the world rankings.
The former sealed her first WTA title of this campaign with her August win at the Connecticut Open, and will improve on her 25th-ranked finish last season.
Meanwhile, 21-year-old Barty, who claimed her maiden WTA title in Kuala Lumpur before finishing runner-up in Birmingham and Wuhan, has enjoyed a sensational season of her own.
She will end the season ranked inside the top 25, a remarkable 300 places up on where she ended her 2016 campaign, and now a bona fide elite level player.
But while Gavrilova admits she has thought about the prospect of ending the season as Australia’s number one, she was realistic about her prospects with Barty ahead and just a couple of tournaments left on the calendar.
“I’m trying to get to Zhuhai,” Gavrilova said, referring to the 12-player WTA Elite Trophy, starting on October 31. “I have to have a pretty good result [in Hong Kong] to make it, but I’m aware of it.
“[Barty] is well ahead of me right now, but hopefully if I can get into Zhuhai it will be close.”
Yet, for all the progress in the Australian women’s game, it is the country’s men who have failed to kick on this term.
Bernard Tomic ended last season as the world number 26 but has slipped to 144 after a disappointing season, while the mercurially talented Nick Kyrgios was once again in the headlines for the wrong reasons this week when he walked off the court after losing the opening set of his first round match against Steve Johnson at the Shanghai Masters.
The 22-year-old wrote an apologetic note to his fans a day later saying he was too ill to play on, but the two-time grand slam quarter-finalist has form for this type of behaviour.
He was guilty of a similar misdemeanour in Shanghai last year and was fined US$32,900 by the ATP and slapped with an eight-week ban.
When asked on Wednesday, Gavrilova expressed her support for Kyrgios.
“I’m pretty good friends with him, but we don’t talk about tennis much,” Gavrilova said. “I can’t go up to him and be like ‘ah, what happened?’ He’ll just brush it off anyway.
“To be honest, what he did is just what players sometimes think of doing.”
Kyrgios’ latest misstep is all the more baffling coming as it does on the back of arguably his best result of the season: finishing runner-up to Rafa Nadal in the final of the China Open in Beijing.
After that match the Spaniard remarked that Kyrgios had all the tools to one day win a major imploring him to “just keep going”.
“Of course, you will have a lot of success in this sport,” the Spaniard said. “You have a great future, so just keep going. Well done and all the best for the future.”
That remains to be seen. Though, he could stand to take a lesson from his countrywomen, whose hard work looks destined to take them to the top.