As an intriguing US Open reaches its midway point in New York, emerging Australian talent Olivia Gadecki will be recuperating on a beach somewhere on the Gold Coast this weekend.
In a desolate year for Australians on the WTA Tour, the steady progression of Gadecki towards becoming a regular tour talent is among the few bright aspects to celebrate.
A couple of hours after an encouraging visit to New York ended in a three set loss to Russian prodigy Mirra Andreeva on Monday, the 21-year-old had turned her mind to the treat ahead.
The Queenslander has been on the road since early May in a four month stint that was both educational and affirming as she continued to take steps forward in her career.
She had enjoyed her first stint in New York. A walk in Central Park was a highlight. The coffee from Little Collins was a taste of home. But nothing beats a night in your own bed.
“I can happily say that I am going home, which is going to be nice,” she said.
“I am definitely a beach person and I will definitely be going to the beach. I am looking forward to that. And also just spending time with my family, because I have not seen them much.
“I am going to head back, do a bit of training and then come back to either the US or Europe for another little swing, which will be nice.”
Gadecki, who is coached by Des Tyson and has been mentored by Ash Barty, has not made massive inroads on her ranking, which currently sits at a career-high 128 on a live estimate.
But the progression is clear. Her venture overseas opened with a first round qualifying loss in Rome. At Roland Garros she was edged in three sets in the second round of qualifying.
The right-hander qualified for Nottingham, where she was beaten by Magda Linette.
At Wimbledon she reached the final round of qualifying for the first time. And in New York, she broke through when qualifying for her maiden US Open with some solid performances.
After her training block, Gadecki is hoping to earn enough points in a stint abroad that is almost certain to include Billie Jean King Cup duties to book her spot in the Australian Open.
“It was tough to come out with a loss but there were a lot of positives to take out of this,” she said.
“It is going to be a bit more experience, a bit more practice, and hopefully I will be one of those (top players) one day.
“There are quite a few things to work on, but I think the big thing is being bold and believing in myself and knowing that I have the level. It is about maintaining that.
“My main goal is to get in off my own ranking, so I am going to try to do all the right things to get that.”
Her elder compatriot Dasha Saville, who performed with distinction against Iga Swiatek in their second round match on Wednesday, likes what she has seen from the Gold Coaster.
The Melburnian is not surprised that the younger Australian was keen to return home and said it was important for Gadecki to find a schedule that would help her succeed.
“I have a lot of belief in Olivia. I think she's got a great game,” Saville said.
“I don't know her that well, because she's based in Queensland and, you know, with me being injured the whole time, we actually haven't crossed paths at too many tournaments.
“I think she struggles a little bit being away from home, so I think managing that part will be important … for her to be happy on the court.
“If she needs to get back home more often, then that's what she has to do. But I think her game is good enough to be top 100.”
As a measure of success, a ranking in the top 100 is an indicator that a player is doing well.
In men’s ranks, Australia is flourishing in this regard with nine players currently ranked inside triple figures, while Nick Kyrgios also has a protected ranking that he can trigger when fit.
The challenge for several is converting strong ATP Tour form to grand slam success, with Alex de Minaur and Rinky Hijikata the only Australians progressing beyond Round 2 at the US Open.
There has been an Australian man competing somewhere in the world in at least one top tier ATP Tour tournament every week this year.
This is a stark contrast on the WTA Tour, with the cupboard alarmingly bare when it comes to Australians inside the women’s top 100 for several reasons.
A sobering season for Australia’s best women unfortunately finished in familiar early fashion in New York despite the reemergence of the nation’s leading player Ajla Tomljanovic.
Courtesy of a right-forearm injury to Tomljanovic and Saville’s misfortune to run into defending champion Swiatek, no Australian woman progressed to the third round.
At face value, it is another bleak performance to punctuate a testing year on the WTA Tour.
Just how bleak? Consider how infrequently Australians have played on the main WTA Tour this year. Wildcards at home in January led to several opportunities. Then the drought hit. No Australians played on the main tour in the fortnight after the Australian Open.
Birrell, who is frustratingly close to breaking into the top 100, ended the absence by qualifying for a tournament in Merida, Mexico in the third week of February.
But there were no Aussies present on the WTA Tour the week after that.
Birrell, who has shown great promise since resuming from a career-threatening elbow injury, made the main draw at Indian Wells, while Hunter played the first round in Miami.
But not one Australian featured in a WTA Tour main draw match from that match in late March through to Birrell’s victory over Elena Malygina in Strasbourg two months later.
Hunter, the world’s No.3 ranked doubles player, performed well as a wildcard in Paris.
Birrell, who is Australia’s top-ranked player at a career-high 105, won some matches on grass in June, while Jaimee Fourlis snared a main draw win in Berlin in mid-June.
Given the ranking struggle, no Australians were able to play a primary WTA Tour event leading into Wimbledon given the necessity of trying to qualify at the All England Club.
The Hungarian Grand Prix held the week after Wimbledon stands as a rarity in 2023 given there were three Australian women in the draw, with Astra Sharma snaring a win.
The returning Saville became the first Australian woman to venture beyond the second round of a tournament this year when reaching a semi-final in Hamburg in late July.
Birrell did well to qualify for the Montreal Masters, where she was beaten by former Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki.
But that was the sole appearance by an Aussie in a top-tier tour event in August as well.
The lack of regular Australian representation on the WTA Tour this year has been noted by representatives of other federations and also by pundits covering this year’s US Open.
Barty was a standard bearer of astonishing quality and it is hoped the legacy of the three-time grand slam champion and former world No.1 will be to inspire future champions.
There is hope at junior level. Melisa Ercan, who recently received her Australian citizenship, defeated Andreeva at junior level in Traralgon earlier this year and is highly-talented.
Emerson Jones has also shown good promise in junior grand slams and on the ITF Tour this year.
But a range of Barty’s peers have not managed to take a big step forward in their careers. Priscilla Hon won a round in qualifying in New York, Destanee Aiava is back and having some success on the ITF Tour, while Fourlis, Astra Sharma and Lizzie Cabrera sit between 150 and 250 in the rankings.
Recent changes including the shift of the national academy from Melbourne to Brisbane and alterations to the funding model for players have not inspired a surge in this generation.
But it is hoped at least some will take a step forward in 2024 on to the main tier WTA Tour.
There were some encouraging signs again in New York and the losses by Australian women at the US Open were scarcely upsets, though all clearly had designs on victory.
Tomljanovic’s effort to post an opening round win in her first match since last year’s Billie Jean King Cup finals is meritorious given she only had a fortnight of proper training.
A setback delayed her return and, given the limited preparation, it is no surprise soreness forced her to withdraw from her second round encounter against Elena Rybakina.
Birrell had chances to extend former Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady while Hunter started well but was ultimately outclassed by Roland Garros finalist Karolina Muchova.
Saville played extremely well against Swiatek in the infancy of her comeback and has demonstrated she is more than capable of resuming a position well inside the top 100.
Having peaked at a career-high ranking of 20 in 2017, Saville started the US Open at 322 but will improve to a spot in the 260s when the rankings are updated on Monday week.
The Melburnian has been strategic in using her ranking protection as she bids to return to the top 100 yet again after undergoing a second knee reconstruction last year.
Saville has used her two grand slam entries but is yet to touch the other six regular WTA wildcards, though she will use at least a couple during a trip to China later this year.
Her effort to test Swiatek in a 6-3 6-4 loss on Louis Armstrong Stadium on Wednesday was a confidence booster that provided her a gauge as to where her level of tennis is.
“I think I'm proud of myself. I was also disappointed but I can't be delusional,” she said.
“I'm still just coming back and it just gives me so much confidence that … I did all that rehab for a reason and I can come back to a pretty good level.”
The individual goal for Australia’s women for the remainder of the season is to bolster their ranking and retain their health, but there are also national duties to consider.
Australia has performed superbly in the past two editions of the Billie Jean King Cup and is currently the second ranked nation in the world despite the individual standings.
As a result of reaching last year’s final, Australia has automatically qualified for the deciders to be held in Seville in November.
Should a full roster be available, the Alicia Molik-captained team will have a chance to go one step further, despite the lack of impact on the WTA Tour this year.
It might prove a springboard towards a brighter 2024.