Harriet Dart ready to dethrone childhood hero Maria Sharapova at Australian Open

Harriet Dart’s rapid rise up the world rankings tells its own story and nothing will better underline the 22-year-old Briton’s progress over the last year than her first-round match here at the Australian Open.

This week 12 months ago Dart was in Egypt playing in an International Tennis Federation tournament with total prize money of just $15,000 (about £11,700).

On Monday the world No 132 will make her debut in the year’s opening Grand Slam tournament when she takes on Maria Sharapova, her childhood idol, in the first match of the tournament in Rod Laver Arena, the main show court, starting at 11am (midnight GMT on Sunday). Even the loser will earn $Aus75,000 (£42,200) for her efforts.

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Dart, whose only previous Grand Slam experience came courtesy of a wild card at the All England Club last summer, was just seven years old when Sharapova won Wimbledon.

“I looked up to her growing up,” the Briton said here after earning her place in the main draw with three victories in qualifying. “One, she always looked so nice when she was playing, and also the way she holds herself on the court, her presence.

“She has been so successful in the game. There are many things why I look up towards her. I was pretty young when she first won Wimbledon. I have always looked up to her and it will be pretty cool to play her.”

Dart’s first tournament of 2018 at Sharm El Sheikh ended in a defeat to Slovenia’s Nastja Kolar, then the world No 451. This year she kicked off her season in Brisbane, where she qualified for the main draw by winning three qualifying matches against higher-ranked opponents and then won her first-round match before losing to Anastasija Sevastova, the world No 11. She has already played eight matches in 2019 and lost just one of them.

Thanks largely to a series of consistent performances on the ITF circuit Dart has climbed 183 places in the world rankings in the last 12 months. She won a match on the main tour for the first time last summer when she beat Kristyna Pliskova at Eastbourne before losing in three sets to the Czech’s twin sister Karolina in the first round at Wimbledon.

Dart, whose mother is a Wimbledon member, has not looked back since recruiting Goran Marijan, an Australian with a Croatian background, as her coach. They were initially based in Istanbul but have since moved to London, which is Dart’s home city. 

“We have been working on my game, improving things, trying to improve things five to 10 per cent,” Dart said. “That makes a big difference when you put it all together. I have been happy I have stuck with it and implemented it in matches. I am getting results for the hard work.”

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