Destanee Aiava has a catchy name – and it is one sports fans are likely to hear a lot more of in coming years.
The 16-year-old from Melbourne has showcased her obvious talent at the Brisbane International this week, storming through qualifying with three excellent wins – the pick of which was a 6-1 6-1 victory over world No.86 Carina Witthoeft.
Aiava then created history when she became the first player born in the 2000s to win a WTA Tour match when she saw off former world No.30 Bethanie Mattek-Sands in three sets on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, she was unable to continue her winning run on Wednesday, with two-time grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova toppling the Aussie 6-4 6-3 in 70 minutes, but Aiava showed plenty of good signs.
Her game is based on power and ball-striking – something she takes from her inspiration Serena Williams, while her American Samoan background also helps.
It is not the traditional tennis upbringing, with Aiava’s father Mark a powerlifter, and her mother Rosie a self-taught tennis coach after a career as a rugby player.
Aiava admits her parents “didn’t know anything about tennis” when she decided she wanted to take up the sport at the age of five.
“I was watching the Oz Open on TV and I was watching Serena and I I was like, ‘I want to become No.1 in the world’,” she told reporters in Brisbane.
“It was just her (Williams’) vibe. Like, I couldn’t feel it from the other side of the TV, but it was just her energy, and that kind of drew me to the sport.”
Aiava, who earned a wildcard for this month’s Australian Open after winning the under-18 national girls title in December, credits her strength to her fitness regime, which includes boxing and training, in the heat, in tracksuits.
As for her relationship with her mother? “She’s really hard on me. But I think that helps a lot. So I don’t get, like, too complacent, you know.”
The teenager has already played for Australia in the Fed Cup at junior levels and feels she has dramatically improved her game over the past year.
“I think having a lot of confidence in my game now [has helped],” she said.
“I think my serve and my forehand has improved a lot. I’m really confident with that … I’d really like to try and get past the first round of the Australian Open. That’s my main goal.”
The Steffi Graf endorsement
Aiava’s junior career was full of accolades.
She won the Female Junior Athlete of the Year three times in a row at the Victorian Tennis Awards, while 2014 was particularly encouraging – she won five titles.
It was in 2012 however, that Aiava – now ranked 386th in the world – won a junior tournament in Paris, which included a hit with 22-time grand slam champion Steffi Graf as a prize.
Aiava, just 12 at the time, clearly impressed the German.
“She was going for her strokes,” Graf told News Corp afterwards.
“She showed clever shots at the net. I was very impressed.”
What is next?
Aiava’s next assignment comes in Melbourne, at the Kooyong Classic, where she has replaced compatriot Ajla Tomljanovic in the field.
“For me, being from Melbourne and training so much at Kooyong, it is going to be a fantastic experience playing there in front of home town fans,” she told the tournament’s official website.
Aiava will take on Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, Romanian Sorana Cirstea and China’s Qiang Wang in the four-woman event.
Then it is on to the first grand slam of Aiava’s career at Melbourne Park.
She will become the first player from the 2000s to feature in a main draw match at grand slam event.
From there, it is anyone’s guess.
But one suspects we’ll be hearing plenty more about Destanee Aiava in the future.