It could not have gone much better for Ballarat’s Zoe Hives.
In her Australian Open singles debut, Hives produced a stellar performance against experienced American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, taking down the former world number 30 in straight sets, 6-1, 6-2.
Hives showed no signs of nerves, getting off to a flying start.
The 22-year-old broke Mattek-Sands twice to claim the first set six games to one.
It was evident early that Hives would have the upper hand in the baseline exchange and that proved telling throughout the match.
Mattek-Sands looked to change things up immediately in the second, the eight-time doubles grand slam champion serve-and-volleying and looking to attack the net when available while changing up the pace within rallies.
But once again Hives had the answers.
Hives skipped out to a 4-1 lead before a defining hold in the sixth game of the second set.
In a game that went to eight deuces, Hives saw-off four break points in what was the most important hold of the match.
As she hit a winner off the backhand wing to seal the game, it was met with a clutched fist and a feeling that Mattek-Sands had thrown her best at the young Australian, but Hives was up to the task.
Hives was cool under pressure when serving for the match. A tight final game saw the score read 30-30 before two impressive points from the Hives racquet, including a 17-shot rally on match point, gave her the victory.
Hives was elated post-match. In what was a huge moment for the rising star, Hives gave The Courier an insight into her thoughts on the match and the lead-up.
"I got a little nervous about 20 minutes before (the game), but then warming up I felt a lot better and heading out I was actually really happy with the lack of nerves,” Hives said.
"I felt good pretty much the whole match until 4-1 in the second set.
"She kept coming in that second set...it got really tight (in that sixth game), but I knew if I could just win that game I was only one game off, it was just getting past that game.
"I was just trying to stay on top of her and not let her back into it.
"She probably didn't play as well as she could, I felt like whatever she threw at me I could counteract.
I think I was relieved by the end, I knew that I'd played really well for the majority of the match and I was just really happy that I was able to finish it off.Zoe HIves
"I think I was relieved by the end, I knew that I'd played really well for the majority of the match and I was just really happy that I was able to finish it off.”
Hives said she was still riding the high that grand slam victory can bring and admitted that the shouts of “Zoe, Zoe” post-match of hopeful youngsters was something a bit different, but something she may have to get used to if her career continues its current upward trend.
"Having all these people come up at the end and wanting photos and autographs, that was a lot different.”
Top 20 player in the world awaits
Hives will now face world number 19 Caroline Garcia in the second round.
In what will be another huge step-up, Hives said she will sit down with coach Michael Logarzo and work out a game plan for the talented Frenchwoman.
"I've seen her play but I haven't looked at it tactically before.
"We'll sit down tomorrow and come-up with a game plan.”
Proud parents watch on
Hives’ parent, Jan and Neil, spoke of how proud they are of their daughter post-match.
For them, the nerves were eased by Zoe’s calmness pre-game, and even more so by her tennis.
Jan said the nerves started to pick-up during the tense sixth game of the second set, but aside from that there was a feeling of confidence among the Hives camp.
Watch The Courier’s interview with the Hives family before the tournament.
"Zoe woke up pretty normal and seemed fairly calm so that makes it a lot easier,” Jan said.
"Because she played well, it was fairly comfortable from early on, so it wasn't that heart-pounding type of game.
"I was getting a tad nervous (late in the second), so I was relieved to see the last point, she did really well.
"I said to Neil at 5-1, she's not going to lose her serve multiple times, so you start to feel a little more relaxed.
"It means a lot to win, to all of them.
"I always thought she was in the hunt,” Neil added.
”After they started hitting and played a few games we thought this isn't beyond her by any stretch. Then it was relief for it to actually happen.
"It feels like Brisbane (International) and Hobart (International)...but it is different, it's a win in a grand slam.”
Hives to feature in doubles
Hives is also set to play in the women’s doubles main draw.
Hives will partner Alison Bai later in the week with pair to take on Maryna Zanevska and Daria Kasatkina.
"I'm really looking forward to getting another match in these kinds of conditions and against these good players.
"All the exposure I can get will help me moving forward.”
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