American qualifier Katie Volynets paid heartfelt tribute to her extended family in Ukraine after sending Russian world number nine Veronika Kudermetova spinning out of the Australian Open on Thursday, Jan. 19.
Kudermetova, who had a stunning 2022 in which she claimed almost 40 match wins, was beaten by the 21-year-old 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 on Margaret Court Arena.
It was Volynets' first consecutive Tour-level wins in her career and put her into the third round.
Her parents come from Ukraine, which was invaded last year by Russia, and Volynets still has family in the country, mostly in the capital Kyiv.
"It's really a difficult time. Before, everyone used to be able to move about the country however they want to and go on with their days," said Russian-speaking Volynets.
"And now it's just, you know, day-to-day.
"I really feel for them and to have their support through all of this is incredible.
"Whenever I come out on the courts, I hope that I'm supporting them as well because they're watching, and I stay strong for them."
Asked if it was extra special beating someone from Russia, she replied: "I would say that when I step on the court, I kind of try to put the politics aside and just focus on the tennis.
"Having said that, I always worry about my family, of course, in Ukraine. But I don't hold anything against the players."
Kudermetova, contesting her first major as a top-10 player, had reached the quarter-finals or better at her past five tournaments.
She came into the Australian Open with a left hip niggle which saw her pull out of her Adelaide International semi-final this month, but was simply not good enough against the qualifier.
"It gives me chills because the fans here are just incredible," Volynets, ranked 113 and facing a top-10 player for the first time, said after her stunning victory.
"I've never played in a stadium this packed with so many people keeping up my energy. That's awesome."
Kudermetova was broken five times and made 47 unforced errors to Volynets' 28, with Volynets crediting new coach Henner Nehles for making a huge difference to her game.
"All credit goes to my team. I've never felt this excited to work with a coach before. We have the big picture in mind and it excites me so much," she said.
"Really cool to see just a few months of work with Henner is really benefiting my game and my identity as a person."
She will attempt to keep her run going next against either China's Zhang Shuai or Croat Petra Martic.
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