Opportunity knocks for Shellharbour’s Australian Open wildcard Ellen Perez.
Facing a tough, but winnable match against world No.64 Yafan Wang, Perez could book a dream date against fellow Aussie and No.15 ranked Ash Barty in the second round.
Barty has already cast aside world No.1 Simona Halep (6-4, 6-4) and No.12 Elise Mertens (6-3, 6-3) this year, before making the Sydney International final with a 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 win over Kiki Bertens. Nine months ago, when the Fed Cup caravans rolled into Wollongong, former player and now commentator Jelena Dokic already had Barty pegged to break into the top 10.
“I think she’s really matured,” Dokic said at the time.
“Her game was always good, she has a great serve, great forehand, she can come to the net. I always saw great potential, it’s great she’s got more maturity and confidence now.
“Her game is a game that can definitely be in the top 10. She has that aggressive style and can also mix her play up which is great.”
Barty stopped the rot at WIN Entertainment Centre, leading Australia back into the World Group with a 4-1 win in the qualifying tie against the Netherlands.
The Aussies were expected to have an easy time of it in the Illawarra, but were shocked into action when the now 203rd ranked Lesley Kerkhove stunned 2011 US Open winner Sam Stosur in the opening match. Displaying the maturity Dokic spoke of, Barty thrashed Quirine Lemoine (6-0, 6-2) and Kerkhove (6-4, 6-2), before Daria Gavrilova finished the job.
Perez, who has taken the less-travelled path through the US College system, still has to prove her worth within the Australian ranks to earn a Fed Cup call.
Last year, captain Alicia Molik put her confidence in the teenage rising star Destanee Aiava, who joined with Gavrilova in the doubles, to seal the 4-1 win against the Dutch in Wollongong.
It was valuable experience for Aiava, ranked 193 in the world, but Perez (No.175) only turned professional in 2017 at the end of her college career and a taste of a grand slam, bowing out in the first round of the 2016 US Open.
Australia face a daunting Fed Cup World Group challenge against the USA – likely to feature Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe – next month, so time is short for Perez to force her way into the team.
Perez has great assets as a left-hander and talented doubles player, though she has already outlined other goals for success this year.
“The ultimate goal is to crack that top 100, I’d love to play more grand slams off my own ranking, rather than with a wildcard,” she told colleague Cameron Mee this week.
Victory over Wang and a likely showdown with Barty would show she can keep climbing the ladder.