Daria Gavrilova was having a dream start to the season. In December of 2014, the 20-year-old competed in the Australian Open Wildcard Playoff, an event designed to pit Australia’s best tennis players against one another, as they battled for a spot in the main draw of the singles and doubles events. Gavrilova, born in Russia, was attempting to become an Australian citizen at the time, but thanks to ITF regulations, she was allowed to represent Australia at Grand Slam events only. Consequently, she was able to play in the 16-player singles draw. That rule seemed to work into Gavrilova’s favour as she won all four of her matches without dropping a set, securing a wildcard into the 2015 Australian Open. After that, the Russian-born Australian made it to the third round of the Brisbane International and Apia Intermational, and also won two ITF singles titles down under.
Coming into Miami as a number 97th ranked wildcard, Gavrilova was looking to build on her recent success at one of the biggest tournaments of the year. In her opener, she cruised into the second round without even needing to win a set after Marina Erakovic was forced to throw in the towel six games into the match. That win set up an intriguing match-up with world number two Maria Sharapova.
Sharapova, was coming into the Miami Open in some great form. After winning the Brisbane International and making the final of the Australian Open, the Russian came to North America eager to compete, but was coming off of a disappointing three set loss to Flavia Pennetta in Indian Wells.
The effects of that loss seemed to carry over into Sharapova’s clash with Gavrilova, as she was unable to find her timing early on, making a string of errors to give her younger opponent an early break. Despite not being able to use that break to serve out the set, Gavrilova stayed calm, eventually clinching the opening set 7-6(4) in front of an electric crowd. More of the same followed in set number two, as the WTA rising star’s athleticism and variety continued to trouble a non-100% Sharapova. Taking full advantage of her opponent’s misfortunes, Gavrilova grabbed an early break and despite losing it at 4-2, the 20-year-old reclaimed the all important break of serve before successfully serving out the match. As a wild forehand return sailed long, the Russian had done it! Pulling off the upset of the tournament, Gavrilova stunned Sharapova with a 7-6(4), 6-3 win, much to the delight of an exuberant Miami crowd.
“I still can't realize that it's my dream,” Gavrilova said in her post-match press conference. “I have been dreaming about beating Maria since I was probably 12 when I saw her win Wimbledon, when she beat Serena. I was like ‘Oh, I really want to play her and beat her’. She was my idol. She's obviously Russian. She was just huge in Russia.”
Sharapova on the other hand, was more reflective rather than disappointed. The five-time Grand Slam champion commended her opponent’s tenacity, saying Gavrilova runs a lot of balls down, and that she was committing a lot of unforced errors when she should have been looking for the right ball to attack.
“Of course it’s a bit of a surprise. It’s the first round. I’m expected to win. But that’s why we play the matches - you still have to go out and win it, no matter if you're the favourite. Today I didn’t.”
Author’s note: Come back next week to find out which five upsets round out the top 5!