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In an ongoing mission to barge her way into the top 100, world number 116 Kimberly Birrell knows all too well about the importance of playing as many matches as possible to develop and climb the rankings.

Last year, the German-born Australian travelled around the globe to win 42 out of her 75 matches, claiming two ITF titles in the United States and Portugal to cap off a positive 12 months.

Birrell will no doubt turn to her invaluable exposure at Melbourne Park from previous campaigns to overcome a former French Open champion in the first round.

One of those inconceivable experiences at Australia’s Grand Slam precinct included a third round night session on Rod Laver Arena against three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, in what was a whirlwind of emotions.

Speaking exclusively to The First Serve, Birrell detailed her preparations heading into the Australian Open.

“My preparation has been really good. It’s crazy how quickly the past couple weeks have flown by,” Birrell told The First Serve. “It was awesome to spend some time playing in Brisbane and I got to spend a few extra days at home there which is always really nice being my home event. I felt like even though I didn’t win there, I thought I played some positive tennis.

“Hobart was great as well because I managed to play two singles and two doubles matches, so I’ve prepared really well and I’m just in great spirits.

In her first round match scheduled for Tuesday, Birrell will need to overcome hard-hitting 11th seed Jelena Ostapenko who is currently one of the most in-form players on the women’s circuit.

The former Grand Slam champion arrives at Melbourne Park having just claimed the Adelaide International title to suggest that there are no signs of slowing down.

Birrell spoke about what she expects from that match and explained what she needs to do to give herself a puncher’s chance.

“I’ve never played her before or practiced with her, but I have watched a lot of Ostapenko’s matches even through juniors,” she said.

“We’ve grown up at a similar time being of similar age, so I feel like I have a good idea of the way she plays and I think it’s a good matchup for me, but anyone you face in the draw is a challenge.

“I’m going to concentrate on myself for the next few days. Physically I feel very strong, so I hope I can perform well.”

Five years ago, a then 20-year-old Birrell went on a magical run beyond her wildest dreams to reach the third round of the Australian Open.

Victories over Paula Badosa (former world number 2) and Donna Vekic (former world number 19) officially put Birrell’s name up in lights. Against Vekic, the Croatian suffered in the soaring heat - an advantage Australians are used to capitalising on.

Ready to face a similar opponent to Badosa and Vekic, how will those experiences help against Ostapenko?

“As Aussies, we have a big advantage with the weather here because we get a lot of time on the courts playing at Melbourne Park from when we were basically kids,” said Birrell.

“There’s the home crowd as well which means a lot of things can go in our favour.

“I’ve played quite a few big ball strikers recently such as Kaia Kanepi last year who I think is one of the biggest hitters on tour, so I’m going to be ready for the firepower that she (Ostapenko) brings and hopefully bring some of my own.”

Having played 14 ITF events last year, it can become quite strenuous to keep up-to-date and view the lower tournaments on a regular basis throughout the season for fans.

For those who are foreign to Birrell’s game style, the 25-year-old spoke about her strengths on the court as well as the adjustments she’s adding to her armoury.

“I’m an aggressive baseline player and like to take the initiative from the first shot,” she explained.

“I think my return of serve is one of my main strengths and I also like to come forward whenever possible to take time away from my opponent.

“I’m trying to add in different parts to my game to create more variety such as slices and drop shots to work on becoming a more well-rounded player which is something I’ve been focusing on.

“I also want to improve on my serve, but I think also one of my best strengths is that I always fight and never give up no matter the circumstances which makes me a tenacious player.”

Exciting young Australian talent coming through the ranks is always a significant sign for the future of tennis in this country, and that’s exactly what is transpiring as we speak.

Perth duo Taylah Preston (18) and Talia Gibson (19) in addition to 17-year-old Maya Joint, who was inches away from qualifying for the Australian Open main draw against the number one seed, are a handful of names who belong in that category.

Now a more experienced Australian on tour, Birrell shared her relationship with the Aussie girls and how they have impressed her.

“I think it’s really cool to see the talent we have coming through. We have a really great group of female tennis players not only my age but the younger generation,” said Birrell.

“I’m great friends with Taylah (Preston) and we just had a hit this morning. I love getting out on court with her and watching her grow and develop over the past couple of years. First and foremost she’s a nice person and I think the grit that she shows in matches makes us both very similar.

“Talia (Gibson) trains in Brisbane which has given us an opportunity to spend a lot of time on court together over the past few years, so it’s awesome to see how well they’re tracking and I wish them nothing but the best.”

With her peak still coming to fruition, Birrell outlined what she hopes to achieve for the rest of 2024.

“Last year I had one of the best years of my career, and that means my expectations have shifted a little bit.

“I’m hoping to continue to improve my game and hopefully my ranking follows, but consistently entering main draws of Grand Slams is where I want to be and I believe I can compete against the best players in the world.

“Those are my targets and hopefully I can cement myself in that position over the coming months.”


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