Daria Gavrilova walking in Hewitt's shoes

Australia's Daria Gavrilova in action at the Sydney International.
Australia's Daria Gavrilova in action at the Sydney International. PAUL MILLER

TENNIS: The comparisons between Daria Gavrilova and Lleyton Hewitt are well documented and many.

They're tenacious, wear their hearts on their sleeves and are loved by the sporting public.

And that hasn't always been a fait accompli with the Australian audience. Just ask Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic.

But with "Dasha” the love affair was instant and, so far, enduring.

She's emotional but endearing; fiesty but loveable; determined but self-effacing.

And in many respects has taken up Hewitt's mantle in the national sporting conscious.

"My best friend actually compared me to Lleyton,” Gavrilova told Fox Sports.

"I'm pretty emotional and I think lots of kids can relate to me because I express myself.”

Daria Gavrilova of Australia bites her racquet between points during her second-round match at the Sydney International.
Daria Gavrilova of Australia bites her racquet between points during her second-round match at the Sydney International. PAUL MILLER

But if Gavrilova is to completely embody Hewitt's ghost, she must continue to develop her game and play finals - particularly at the grand slams.

She came agonisingly close at Melbourne Park in 2016 and is desperate to re-create what she describes as her best week of tennis.

While Gavrilova lost to Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in the round of 16, she dismantled world No.6 Petra Kvitova, as well as the seeded Kristina Mladenovic, to capture the public's imagination.

And it's these memories that continue to drive Gavrilova this time around.

"I think it was the best tennis week of my life,” Gavrilova said.

"I had so much fun and the crowd was just unbelievable and to have people supporting me was super special. I'm really excited about it and hope I can do the same this year.”

But the Asics athlete knows the results won't just happen. She must execute her game plan and control her nerves - some of which have already begun to settle in.

"I feel the pressure because I feel like I'm not just playing for myself, but for all of Australia,” Gavrilova said.

"They want to barrack for someone and support an Aussie so it's pressure, but it's good pressure.”

The Open is uncharted territory for Gavrilova, who will go into Melbourne Park as Australia's second highest women's seed behind Samantha Stosur.

It's a challenge Gavrilova wants to relish, but also one she must ensure her emotions don't get the most of. Hewitt was a master at using the parochial home crowd to his advantage, and it's something Gavrilova also wants to capitalise on.

"It is a bit of my personality, but when I get angry if that fires me up then that's a good thing.,” Gavrilova said.

"But if I'm just whingeing then that's not a good thing so I'm trying to control that.”


Topics:  australian open daria gavrilova summer of tennis

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