Two Australian Open wildcards have featured at Kooyong this week with Aussie’s Kimberly Birrell and Rinky Hijikata both fine tuning their preparation for next week’s Australian Open.
Hijikata who featured on both day one and two of the event has been building for the Australian Open since finding out he had received a wildcard.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday after his match against China’s Zhang Zhizhen, Hijikata said once he found out about the wildcard, he put his head down and got straight to work.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work over the pre-season with lots of hours in the gym and lots of hours on my fitness,” he said.
“You’re never a lock for a wildcard and anytime you get one it’s quite lucky and I am very grateful to Tennis Australia to give me this opportunity.”
Last year saw Hijikata’s first full year touring where he claimed his first title on the ATP Challenger tour but being at the Australian Open has always been in his sights.
“It’s the tournament that you grow up wanting to play, and I can’t really put it into words, but it means a lot,” he said.
With a fresh and positive mindset, tennis fans are greatly warming to Hijikata with his resilient nature and determination on display.
“I just want to be known as someone who goes about it the right way, puts in all the hard work, maximises their potential and leaves it all out there on the court,” he said.
Throughout his career, Rinky has always looked up to the older Australians on the circuit but admits he has found Alex de Minaur his biggest inspiration.
“He is someone that I have always looked up to just because he’s been on the same journey,” he said.
“Seeing the way he goes about it and being able to see that one of us can get that far gives me a lot of confidence and motivation.”
On the women’s side of things, Kimberly Birrell was also feeling confident about her lead in to the Australian Open.
The Queenslander was awarded a wildcard after Venus Williams was forced to withdraw due to injury.
“It was the absolute least thing I was expecting, and I was just absolutely over the moon,” she said.
After returning from an elbow injury in early 2022, Birrell has been slowly grinding away at improving her ranking while also trying to stay healthy.
With the Australian Open right around the corner, Birrell is hoping it will give her some momentum to work off throughout 2023.
“I’m going to try and enjoy it as best I can but also try and use it as a real opportunity to give myself a good launching pad into the 2023 season,” she said.
“I have some of my best tennis memories at the Australian Open, as an Aussie playing at home, it’s so amazing.”
Birrell is set to face Estonian Kaia Kanepi in the first round of the Australian Open while Rinky
Hijikata will face a qualifier Yannick Hanfmann from Germany.