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Australian Open 2016: Why Daria Gavrilova now flies the Aussie flag

Luke Saville is happy to accept the credit for his girlfriend Daria Gavrilova's switch of nationality, and pleased to be by her side during a thrilling run of success. Both are former junior grand slam winners and No.1s, but Australia's 2011 Wimbledon boys champion can laugh about which of the couple is now the best known. "Oh, it would definitely be her," smiled Saville. "And I think if she wins a few more rounds then it'll be a no-brainer."

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As he spoke, Gavrilova was out on a Melbourne Park practice court lined with patriotic well-wishers, most of whom only recently would have struggled to put a face to the Russian name. But the follow-up to a breakthrough season in which she rose from 233rd to 36th has been a high-profile win at the Hopman Cup with Nick Kyrgios and then an Australian Open upset of sixth seed Petra Kvitova to deliver a debut in a grand slam third round.

These days, Gavrilova sports Australian-flag-painted fingernails to complement her breakfast preference of Vegemite and avocado on toast, has a strong local knowledge base honed by her study for the citizenship test, and Saville has noted the odd slang expression creeping into her speech. The pair share a home in Middle Park, partners since 2011, having first met at the junior Davis and Fed Cup event two years earlier.

Daria Gavrilova with her boyfriend Luke Saville.
Daria Gavrilova with her boyfriend Luke Saville. Photo: Eddie Jim

A 2012 pre-season visit to Melbourne was the catalyst for her change of allegiance, Saville introducing the talented but slightly flighty Gavrilova to Tennis Australia coach, now head of women's tennis, Nicole Pratt. Potential noted. Welcome. "Then there was the connection with me as well, so probably none of this would have happened if we weren't together. She wouldn't have had a reason or the contacts to come here," Saville said.

"She obviously loves it here and I was a pretty big part of why she moved here. But there's no sugar-coating it, she's getting a lot more support here and that's a big reason as well. She got absolutely nothing in Russia, it's really harsh there. Not much support there - just her dad. She wasn't even training in Russia, they can barely get practice courts there. She was probably a little reluctant at the start but once she thought it through it was a no-brainer for her if she wanted to take that next step.

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"She knows where she was born and where her family is from, but she is really proud to be Australian. I'm not just saying that, she really likes having Australia next to her name, she loves this tournament and thinks the Aussie crowd is unbelievable as well. I think Australians have really adopted her. She's not born here but she couldn't help that. She's moved here now and is going to give back everything back to the public and Tennis Australia and play Fed Cup and do her best because she knows how much everyone has done for her."

Having overcome a 2014 knee reconstruction, the 21-year-old has benefited from the help of sports psychologist Jeff Bond, is handling her nerves and emotions better. Coach Craig Tyzzer, with whom she will travel this year, is pleased with the improvements in her serve and backhand after a strong emphasis in the pre-season on the mental side of the speedy baseliner's game as well. She is still feisty and emotional, but calmer now. "What she's capable of? She's beaten players in the top 10, but I'm not sure she knows how good she is," says Tyzzer. "There's obviously still a long way to go, but she's starting to make inroads."

Gavrilova now has a bevy of patriotic well-wishers, most of whom only recently would have struggled to put a face to the ...
Gavrilova now has a bevy of patriotic well-wishers, most of whom only recently would have struggled to put a face to the Russian name.  Photo: Eddie Jim

Christmas, as usual, was spent with the Saville family in tiny Riverland town of Barmera, Saville and Gavrilova hitting together a couple of times at the local court because, well, options were few. "She struggled with that. There's no-one around in a town of about 300 people, so it was just funny, the difference, and less than a month later she's played in front of 13,000 in the Perth Arena at the Hopman Cup and now she's here. Roller-coaster for her, but it's pretty fun."

Saville says she is enjoying the publicity and the limelight, the world No.191's ongoing battle to make a significant breakthrough in senior ranks himself a reminder to enjoy the good times when they come. On Friday night Gavrilova will play French 298th seed Kristina Mladenovic, a friend and former junior rival, on Hisense Arena, the crowd's adoption of a new local favourite already confirmed. "She's such a likeable character because she goes out there and gives her absolute best and people love that about her," Saville said.

Gavrilova sports Australian-flag-painted fingernails to complement her breakfast preference of Vegemite and avocado on toast.
Gavrilova sports Australian-flag-painted fingernails to complement her breakfast preference of Vegemite and avocado on toast. Photo: Eddie Jim

So, we have to ask, how does Dasha think her partner feels about almost being better known these days as Mr Gavrilova? "Oh that's shocking.I don't like him to be in this position at all!" she laughed. "He's pretty chilled out. I don't think he cares too much. He's happy for me. and he's pretty confident that I can do good things with my tennis. He's almost like 'ok, she's doing well, but I expect her to'."