Aussies meet the media as US Open looms

New York, United States, 26 August 2019 | AAP / tennis.com.au

Prior to the US Open, many of Australia’s players faced the media to discuss their form, their first-round opponents, and their thoughts on season 2019.

Here are the highlights.

Ash Barty

Barty opens her US Open campaign against world No.77 Zarina Diyas after a recent semifinal finish in Cincinnati. She advanced to the fourth round at Flushing Meadows last year.

“Oh, there is no place in the world like New York. I have been here a few times now and I understand the city a little bit better. I know how it works. You come here and you just take it in your stride. You enjoy it. There’s no point fighting it. It’s a beautiful city, a beautiful place that we get to come and play and compete. Love the conditions here in New York. It’s definitely a spark in my calendar.

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“Every single person in the draw has as good of a chance as anyone else. You guys (the media) probably talk about the favourites more than I do. I just come here to play and do the best that I can, and that’s all that bothers me. I’m focused on my first round on Monday and that’s all I’m worried about for the moment.”

Alex de Minaur

De Minaur, who advanced to the third round in New York in 2018 and stretched former champion Marin Cilic to five sets, begins his 2019 US Open against Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

“I know what to expect. He’s a quality opponent and a very tricky one as well. I know this is going to be a tough match but this is what you play for. Obviously I like playing on this surface and doing well in Atlanta has given me a lot of confidence coming in so really looking forward to going out here.

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“Been having some good training, I feel like the body’s good. Mentally I’m in the right headspace so really looking forward to coming out tomorrow and hopefully playing some of my best tennis. I’ve suffered with a couple of niggles here and there. Not ideal but it’s part of the sport. It’s about how you deal with these sort of setbacks and come back stronger than ever.”

Ajla Tomljanovic

The Australian women’s No.2 has suffered an injury-affected lead-up to the US Open, with an abdominal injury stopping her in Toronto and forcing her to skip events in Cincinnati and the Bronx. She opens against Toronto semifinalist Marie Bouzkova.

“I actually don’t know (where my game is at currently). It’s a little bit up in the air — I think I’ve been playing pretty well in practice but I haven’t had that sort of feeling like from previous tournaments, especially pulling out of Toronto, not playing Cincy. I probably would have liked some more matches under my belt coming into the US Open. But it’s not a big deal. I think I can play well from the first round but, yeah, I’m kind of curious to see how I’ll go. I wouldn’t say (I’m) concerned, but on edge, in a positive way.

“I don’t want to overthink. I feel like I’ve been overthinking a lot the last couple of months, so I just wanna go in and make it really simple and at the end of the day it’s just a game, and play my game, and not think about it too much.”

Jordan Thompson

Enjoying a career-best season, world No.55 Jordan Thompson begins against Portugal’s Joao Sousa. He detailed a frank conversation with then-coach Des Tyson after a first-round loss three years ago in New York that has led to where he is today.

“He (Tyson) sat me down and said that I owed it to myself to start eating better given how hard I was working on the court and the gym. I had a little bit of a sweet tooth for lollies and desserts. I really took that advice on board; I cut them out and I noticed straight away how much better I felt. I’ve been playing some good tennis, up around the 50-mark, so I just want to keep pushing forward. I want to try and get top 40, top 30 and the only way to do that is to keep working on my game and trying to keep getting better. It’s all the one percenters: getting in the gym, going for runs, working on your forehand, working on your backhand. It’s every little thing.”

Daria Gavrilova

The former world No.20 is down to 95th after an injury-marred season. Yet Gavrilova, who did not play on hard courts in the lead-up to the US Open, believes she’s hitting the ball well ahead of her first-round match against Fiona Ferro.

“Not happy with the year at all but there’s still a few months to go and I’m definitely going to try improve that. I’m still trying to come back to what’s been successful for me, which is using my forehand and playing a lot more with the topspin because I feel like I went away from it. I still for some reason have the habit to try and hit the ball flat but we’re really trying to play just a bit of boring tennis where I play the ball heavy and stay in long rallies. I’m still battling with injuries. It’s ongoing but hopefully it’s going to go away and that’s why I was home just before coming here taking care of my feet and stuff.”

John Millman

By drawing Rafael Nadal in his first-round match, last year’s quarterfinalist John Millman will have played the Spaniard, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer — the world’s top three, and legends of the sport — in his three most recent matches at Flushing Meadows.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play against thost top guys, all of them, now, and one of the toughest ones I thought was against Rafa. He’s challenging. But that doesn’t change the approach that I’ve always had, and that’s to go in there and not play someone’s reputation, or not even play past performances against them — it’s a new day, new surface, new venue, and I’ll be ready to go. It’s a challenge, but again I get to play on a pretty cool court and another big match.

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“Yeah definitely (I draw confidence from last year). It’s a new year and conditions are actually really different … I was surprised how cool as it was today. I get my half-hour time slot on Ashe, which is generous. It does help I think that I got to play there before and kind of know what to expect in those night-time matches. But let’s make no mistake — it’s gonna be extremely tough.”

Astra Sharma

Now a top-100 player, the West Australian will play in the main draw of the US Open for the first time when she takes on WTA Bronx champion Magda Linette in the first round. 

“(I’m) just trying to keep it pretty simple, pretty easy, not making a big deal out of it. I mean, especially when you’ve played somewhere like Wimbledon where it’s full of tradition and a lot of pomp and ceremony surrounding it, coming back to the US (where she is based) feels a bit more laid back and easy-going. I’ve just definitely learned a lot from playing at this level and it’s probably exposed a lot of things I need to work on and at the same time shown me what I’m pretty good at, and so going into the last little bit (of the season) I’m just trying to keep that improvement and resiliency going.”

Alexei Popyrin

The 20-year-old made his top 100 debut at Wimbledon and will now have featured in the main draw of all four Grand Slam tournaments in 2019. He opens his US Open campaign against Argentine Federico Delbonis.

“I didn’t feel too good during the match (a quarterfinal loss to Cameron Norrie in Atlanta). But definitely I learned from that, learned from the preparation I did before the match and I changed some stuff going into the other matches that I played. Definitely that Norrie loss hurt a bit but definitely made me learn a lot. (The things I changed were) diet, what I eat before that match, and all that stuff. It’s just a learning process. I think it will go well here. All I had was like pasta … but I added a few more vegetables into my diet now, a bit more fruit, just trying to eat a bit more healthy.”

Sam Stosur

The 2011 US Open champion is a wildcard entry into the main draw this year, and after a stint at home refreshing and training in Australia, played her one and only hard-court lead-in match in WTA Bronx qualifying. She drew Ekaterina Alexandrova as her first-round opponent.

“It’s always nice to come back here. Special place for me, and always brings back lots of good memories and I’ve always enjoyed playing on these courts and in these sort of conditions. So it’s always a bit of a buzz coming back again. That off-forehand return winner (to beat Serena Williams in the 2011 final) is a pretty good memory that often pops into my mind (laughter). I’m very grateful to be in that position to get straight in again (thanks to the wildcard) and have an opportunity to play main draw. I guess a little bit of luck’s on my side straight up to begin with and now you wanna try and make the most of that opportunity.”

Thanasi Kokkinakis

Kokkinakis, a wildcard entrant, is aiming for his first US Open main-draw win when he takes on qualifier Ilya Ivashka in the first round. This is just his eighth event in another injury-ravaged season.

“I don’t know how I haven’t lost the plot completely. I guess because I know what my tennis can do, which has kept me ticking along a little bit.
“I know that hopefully when I get a clean run at it for an extended period of time, I can do some good things. That’s what’s kept me motivated. I was in a truly rough place mentally after the shoulder surgery (in December 2015). That was the lowest of the lows for me. So I felt like if I could get through that period I was in, some of these injuries – as bad as they seem, three months a piece – then all this stuff is easy for me.

“My dad always wants me to pick up a subject at university and I think if a few more injuries come, that might be a path I’ll go down. But I’m young at the moment, so I’ve still got a bit of a window and I feel like I’ve missed the first part of my career a little bit. I started when I was young, so I’m going to give tennis a crack for as long as I can.”

Priscilla Hon

The Queenslander fell in the final round of US Open qualifying but enters the main draw as a lucky loser. Enjoying a career-best season, Hon will now face Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan.

“I was really disappointed that I lost. I didn’t play the worst match. After I lost I showered and did whatever I had to do and went home and then I sat down with my coach, we talked about the match, then we started talking about what I’m playing next — what flights we should take and all that. I went back to my room and I was literally about to book flights and call Qantas and change everything.

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“Then a girl, one of the players, messaged me saying that she’s helping with the draw and that she chose me as a lucky loser. I’m like ‘wait, are you sure? Are you sure I’m lucky loser?’ I got my agent to call the referee just to double check. So she told me and I only knew 20 minutes later officially, I guess.”