After collecting singles and doubles trophies at the W60 NSW Open, Destanee Aiava keeps her tennis dream alive a little longer as her rich vein of form eases some financial pressures.
Defeating 120th-ranked Astra Sharma in the singles final at Sydney Olympic Park last week 6-3, 6-4 Aiava sees her singles ranking rise to 186 which represents her highest ranking since September 2019 and cements her status as one to consider for Alicia Molik’s discretionary Australian Open main draw wildcards as one of six women ranked inside the top 200.
Not done there, Aiava partnered West Australian Maddison Inglis to her seventh doubles title for the year (her fourth in two months; three of which were alongside Inglis). The pair took home the winner's cheque over an unseeded Japanese pairing in straight sets handing out a pair of bagels in the final. The result sees Aiava maintain her healthy doubles ranking of 162 (two spots behind her career high).
The wins mark a successful few months for Aiava who won her final event in Europe at the W25k in Aldershot, England before coming home to win the Cairns ITF W25 event in October while also making two other semi-finals on the singles court during the Australian swing.
Speaking on The First Serve’s podcast The Grind following her win in Cairns, Aiava shared her relief in being back on home soil and her future goals after a long and draining tour of Europe.
“It’s always nice to be playing back home. I had a long Europe trip. I’ve played so many matches now and I’m feeling confident. I just want to stay fit and have a good Aussie Summer” Aiava declared.
“My main goal was to get my ranking inside quallies so I don’t need a wildcard.
“There is a cluster of us all at the same spot. We’re all chasing that qualifying spot”
Sitting outside the top 200 prior to the NSW Open, Aiava, who once had Simona Halep on the back foot on Rod Laver Arena, is now safely within the qualifying cut-off for the Australian Open which will provide some welcome relief (both financial and otherwise) for Aiava who has been vocal in her frustrations of the challenges of playing ITF tour tennis.
Despite roaring onto the scene as a junior and playing in her first grand slam aged only 16 years old, Aiava has felt the pinch in recent years on tour having played predominately on the ITF tour to the point that she publicly posted on Facebook seeking sponsorship in a bid to prolong her career such is the financial burden of being outside the top 200 for so long.
“I didn’t get many messages from my request” Aiava chuckled, before revealling she would assess whether to continue her career beyond the Australian Summer.
“I pretty much lost all my savings to fund my entire Europe trip. I was looking at selling my house or renting it out. It was pretty grim.
“When I came back home I was scared. I didn’t know if I’d be able to travel to these local tournaments”
“Pretty much every match I play now it’s like life or death which I think has actually helped me play so well and remain so consistent. It’s always in the back of my mind wondering how much money is coming in.
“I’m just trying to hold out until [the Australian Open] to be honest. To try get myself into quallies and see if I can go again to Europe next year to be honest.”
Of course, for Aiava, her success cannot be solely defined in dollars, cents, or ranking points. Having bravely and publicly divulged her near-life-ending battle with her mental health, simply being on the court and continuing to fight for her dream is itself a remarkable achievement.
Moreover, doing so while staring down the barrel of financial distress makes the 23-year-old's recent feats all the more impressive. Part of doing so, says Aiava, involves “managing her mental health during tournaments”, playing doubles “for fun” and competing, figuratively, like it’s “life or death” on the court but quickly looking to “switch off” when off it.
“I definitely switch off straight after my match” stated Aiava in a matter-of-fact way.
“I try to look at it as just a few hours out of my day. Tennis is stressful enough as it is, I don’t want to spend the rest of my day looking at rankings and schedules and that sort of thing.
“As I get older the stakes are higher but I still tend to switch off. I tell myself there's always more to life than tennis. If I lose it’s not the end of the world”
Travelling without a coach, the prodigiously talented Aiava seems to have found the perfect balance in season 2023 having assembled a stellar record when accompanied by boyfriend and fellow touring professional Corey Gaal in Aldershot and throughout the Australian Pro Tour swing as she collected silverware with remarkable frequency.
“It helped a lot having Corey around” Aiava shared.
“I don’t think I necessarily need a coach but I just need someone to support me and help take my mind off tennis. I try not to stress too much about game plans.”
The challenge for Aiava now becomes whether she can use her successful 2023 campaign and return to the top 200 as a springboard to greater tour success in 2024. With Australian Open qualifying all but assured, Aiava will be strongly considered for an Australian Open main draw wildcard although she’s been around long enough to know she’s guaranteed nothing.
A strong Australian summer and Aiava, who is still seeking sponsorship, might just become the player once dubbed Australia’s “next big thing” and who drew comparisons to her idol Serena Williams as a teenager.