Doubles queen Storm Hunter and retiring history-maker John Millman have led another eight locals through to the next round of Australian Open qualifying at Melbourne Park.
Millman, the only Australian this century to topple the great Roger Federer at a grand slam, staved off retirement with the hard-fought 6-4 6-4 victory over Italian leftie Alessandro Giannessi.
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The 34-year-old is leaving the grind of the professional tour after his last loss this summer, and is now within two wins of a home grand-slam main-draw swansong.
There were concerns the occasion had got to the veteran when Millman gave up a service break late in the second set and found himself in danger of being forced into a nerve-racking decider.
But the 2018 US Open quarter-finalist held his nerve – and serve – from multiple break points down to book a second-round qualifying date with Slovakian Alex Molcan.
“Look, I’m really happy,” he said after sparking another wave of Millmania on a near-packed Court 3.
“There was a little bit of a strange feeling coming into this match. I’m not the most emotional person, but yeah, I took a moment in the locker room before coming out here.
“I didn’t expect this many people to be coming out and watching some qualifying matches, so I’m blessed and grateful and so lucky to have such good support here.”
Hunter dispatched dangerous veteran Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-2 in her qualifying opener.
After finishing 2023 ranked world No.1 in doubles, Hunter is now chasing some singles success and faced a tough first-up opponent in Kanepi.
The Estonian 38-year-old is an eight-times grand slam quarter-finalist, having most recently made the last eight in Melbourne in 2022.
That year, Kanepi took out former champion Angelique Kerber and reigning title-holder Aryna Sabalenka in a giant-killing run, before falling to world No.1 Iga Swiatek in three sets.
But the part-time truck driver was no match on Wednesday for in-form Hunter, a doubles standout in Australia’s run to last week’s United Cup semi-finals.
“Kaia is an unreal player – I played her last year and lost pretty convincingly, but I knew her game and felt if I could just get on the front foot I could cause some damage,” Hunter told AAP.
“I’m just really proud of myself how I kind of came back from starting pretty average to compete and enjoy it, and it ended up being a good match.”
Omar Jasika, who won the US Open boys’ singles and doubles titles in 2014, also advanced with a 6-3 1-6 6-2 win over Czech Dalibor Svrcina.
Jasika hasn’t made the main draw of a grand slam since 2017, with his career stalled in 2018 by a two-year drug ban after testing positive for cocaine.
Now ranked No.341, Jasika is hoping to make the most of another chance.
“I’ve grown up and matured a lot and I’m so happy to be back here,” the 26-year-old said.
“It’s always great to be back playing in front of friends and family who helped me so much over the last few years.”
American-born Aussie 17-year-old Maya Joint ground out a 6-3 1-6 7-5 win over Serbian veteran Natalija Stevanovic to also move to within two wins of a maiden grand-slam appearance.
Fellow teen Edward Winter, along with Tristan Schoolkate and Maddison Inglis, also progressed to the second round, while Priscilla Hon was the first home hope to reach the final qualifying hurdle with a 4-6 6-3 6-4 comeback win over Hungary’s Dalma Galfi.
But rising youngsters Philip Sekulic, Jeremy Jin and Seone Mendez all bowed out, as did Western Australia’s Astra Sharma.