Teen to replace Tomljanovic at Kooyong
TENNIS: Already assured of Australian Open history next month, Destanee Aiava has underlined her standing as one of tennis's rising stars after being added to the Kooyong Classic field.
The 16-year-old replaces the injured Ajla Tomljanovic at Kooyong from January 10-13, continuing an unforgettable stretch for the Narre Warren prodigy.
Aiava, who first shot to international notice by winning the Longines Future Aces event in 2013, will use the Kooyong Classic to prepare for a double grand slam debut at Melbourne Park from January 16-29.
The right-hander will be the first player born this century to compete at a grand slam.
Aiava earned the right to do so by securing a main draw singles wildcard with victory in the national 18-and-under championships.
She followed that triumph by securing a doubles wildcard with Queensland's Alicia Smith by winning the Australian Open play-off tournament.
Aiava's first taste of senior singles competition will come against Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki, Romanian Sorana Cristea and rising Chinese star Qiang Wang at Kooyong.
"It's been such a great few weeks winning the Australian Open wildcard and now being invited to play in the Kooyong Classic,” Aiava said.
"For me, being from Melbourne and training so much at Kooyong it is going to be a fantastic experience playing there in front of home-town fans.
"Playing against Sabine, Sorana and Qiang is going to be the perfect preparation for the Australian Open and I can't wait.”
Aiava has set herself a goal of winning her first round at the Australian Open.
"That's what I'm working for now,” she said. "I'd like to play Serena Williams, she's my idol, so that would be a good experience.
"It feels unreal. I'm so excited to have the chance to play both singles and doubles at my favourite grand slam - it hasn't really sunk in yet.
"It's been a dream since I was five to play in a grand slam.”
Aiava is coached by her mother Rosie.
Kooyong tournament director Peter Johnston said: "We have had such great feedback with the inclusion of the women this year that we have expanded the field to four girls.
"We are delighted to welcome Destanee who truly is a big part of Australia's tennis future. The opportunity for her to play against world-class players the week before her grand slam singles debut should be the perfect preparation.
"Qiang Wang is an emerging star in China. She is already the Chinese No.2-ranked woman and an Olympian, and it is great to welcome our first Chinese participant in the history of the Kooyong Classic.”
The men's draw features nine players, including six players from the top 30, with No.11 and defending champion David Goffin and Bernard Tomic headlining the field.
Joining them are France's Lucas Pouille, Gilles Simon and Richard Gasquet, Croats Ivo Karlovic and Borna Coric, Russian Mikhail Youzhny and Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka.