Seven years spent in the tennis wilderness fuelled Omar Jasika’s return to the grand slam main stage, with the former wunderkind finally earning another shot at the Australian Open.
The 26-year-old Victorian, who needed a wildcard just to play in qualifying, downed Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh 2-6 6-1 6-2 on Friday to secure a spot in the Open main draw.
He was quickly joined by his good pal Dane Sweeny, who will make his maiden major appearance after his cramping Belgian rival Zizou Bergs retired while trailing the Queenslander 5-7 7-5 2-0.
Jasika and Sweeney qualifying bolsters Australia’s Open men’s contingent to 18, the most locals in the main draw since 1998.
All up, Australia will have 21 featuring in the singles main draws, with Storm Hunter the last through, the top-ranked doubles star downing Czech Dominika Salkova 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Jasika said it was tough to describe his emotions after the long wait for another Open spot, with his last coming in 2017.
“Mixed emotions, to be honest – I’m super excited but kind of scratching my head wondering what’s going on,” he told AAP.
“It’s just been amazing and I’ve played three good matches so I think I feel like I’ve deserved my spot in the main draw.
“I’ve been playing some good tennis lately and I’ve been sort of staying in my own lane, just trying to do the right things better.
“When I was a kid I took things for granted … I wasn’t doing the right things professionally and I think I’m a little bit older now and more mature and I’m doing all the one percenters now and it’s showing.”
Jasika famously became the first player in 28 years to win both the US Open boys singles and doubles titles in 2014 and two years later got to the second round of the Australian Open.
But his quest for senior tour success was derailed late in 2018 when he was banned for two years after testing positive to cocaine.
He spent time working in a factory and in a bar, watching the careers of his peers progress.
“It was obviously tough seeing all my friends playing in the Australian Open every year and me sort of watching at home, sitting on the couch,” he said.
“That’s what’s fuelled me to get past these matches today, for sure.”
Seven Australian players reached the final round of qualifying, looking to join 18 already in the main draw, ahead of play getting underway Sunday.
There was heartbreak for Destanee Aiava, who led 4-1 in the third set of her clash with second seed Renata Zarazua but fell to the Mexican second seed 5-7 (7-5) 6-3 6-4.
American-born 17-year-old Maya Joint, who relocated to her father’s birth country last year, showed her talent by taking top-seeded Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska to the wire 6-2 1-6 6-4.
Priscilla Hon also went down in three sets, losing to rising Russian Maria Timofeeva 6-2 4-6 6-1 while Maddison Inglis missed qualification in the last match of the day with a 6-2 5-7 6-3 loss to Daria Snigur of the Ukraine.
It was Sweeny’s fourth attempt at qualifying for the Open and while he felt for his opponent who had leg cramps, said he was deserving of a spot.
“In 2021 I wasn’t really expecting myself to win one match, I was just really happy to be in the third round, but today I really thought I could win and qualify,” the 22-year-old said.
“It’s unbelievable … I can’t wait.”