In first match vs. a Top 10 player, Volynets stuns Kudermetova at Australian Open
Katie Volynets' first-ever match against a Top 10 player ended in triumph on Wednesday at the Australian Open. The 21-year-old qualifier from Walnut Creek, Calif. defeated No. 9 seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 in Round 2 to reach the third round of a major for the first time.
Volynets, ranked No. 113, won a trio of three-setters to make the main draw, before knocking off former Top 100 player Evgeniya Rodina in the first round in Melbourne for just her second career Grand Slam main-draw win in her sixth main-draw appearance. It was a step up in all ways against Kudermetova, whose breakthrough in the last 12 months has seen her rise into the Top 10 in both singles and doubles, inside Margaret Court Arena, and Volynets came through a 2 hour, 8-minute encounter to book her place in the next round.
"I literally have the chills because the fans here are just incredible. I've never played in a stadium this packed, and that many people keeping the energy up for me, it's awesome," Volynets said afterwards in an on-court interview.
"When you get match point, it's like, 'Oh, wow, I have match point against No. 9 in the world!' I was trying to take deep breaths and to keep going for it on the match points, leaving the rest up to what's meant to happen."
Despite the more than 100 places in the rankings between the two players, Volynets wasn't overawed early in the match. The first seven games went with serve—with neither woman facing break point—before she got the break the decided the opening set, and saved a break point herself in the eighth game. Kudermetova took a 3-0 lead to start the second set and never looked back, breaking Volynets three times in total to send the match to a final set. There, however, Volynets started quickly with two breaks for 3-0, and restored the double-break advantage in the seventh game.
Frustrating Kudermetova into 47 unforced errors with her speed and defense over more than two hours, Volynets saved a final break point before serving out the win on her third match point.
"I would say that I had a lot of belief," she told reporters afterwards. "I didn't think too much about the other side. I was just focused on my side and doing to the best of my ability on each of my shots and everything that I could control."
Volynets also credited her work with a new coach, Henner Nehles, with equipping her with the tools necessary to help her score her career-best win to date. The pair have been working together since September.
"I've never felt this excited to work with a coach before," she said. "We have the big picture in mind. It excites me so much. It's really cool to see that only a few months of work with Henner is really benefiting my mentality, my game and my identity as a person.
“In the last few months with Henner and with my team, we've definitely put a lot of work into fitness and a lot of work into movement. So I believe that I'm moving differently and I'm really eager to move forward into the court, and we keep on working on those things."
Born to Ukrainian immigrant parents in the Northern California suburb, Volynets hit her first tennis ball at age 5.
"When my parents moved from Ukraine, their friend Charles gave them a tennis racquet, and then my brother, who is actually 12 years older than me, he started to play with my parents a little bit, and I was, like, 5 at that time," she said. "I would always bring my toys and coloring books and cars, whatever I had, to the tennis court. One day I got really bored with my coloring books. I think I finished one of them, so then I was like, 'Dad, can I borrow your racquet? Can I try?' Then I hit the first ball and then I was like, 'Dad, can I have tennis lessons?' I didn't have a racquet yet.
"So then we were home one day. He brought something home, and he had it behind his back, and he was like, 'Guess what this is?' I was like, 'A racquet?' And it was a racquet."
The 2019 USTA Girls 18s national champion, Volynets made her Grand Slam debut at the 2019 US Open via a wild card as a result, and she lost in Round 1 there to eventual champion Bianca Andreescu. Her next Grand Slam appearance wouldn't come for nearly two years—she qualifies for Wimbledon in 2021—and her first win at this level came last spring at Roland Garros. She's the first American female qualifier to get this far at the Australian Open since Jennifer Brady reached the last 16 in 2017.
Andreescu, then ranked No. 15, was the highest-ranking player Volynets had ever faced before Kudermetova. Her best-ever win by ranking was then-No. 53 Viktorija Golubic, who she beat in Paris last year. To keep her run going, she'll next have to navigate past No. 23 seed Zhang Shuai.