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Darren Walton

Gadecki, Kubler awarded AO wildcards

Olivia Gadecki will make her Australian Open debut thanks to a wildcard for her home grand slam. (PR HANDOUT IMAGE PHOTO) (AAP)

Rising star Olivia Gadecki will make her eagerly awaited Australian Open debut after being one of six locals awarded a wildcard into their home grand slam.

Alexei Popyrin, Jason Kubler, Rinky Hijikata, Storm Hunter and Talia Gibson will also compete in Melbourne with wildcards.

Gadecki announced herself on the big stage in 2021 when she upset then-defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin at the Phillip Island Trophy at Melbourne Park.

Mentored by retired champion Ash Barty, Gadecki sat out last year's Open after declining to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

But the 20-year-old will no doubt draw a crowd when she makes her main-draw debut at the AO - which runs from January 16-29 - after impressive gains on the ITF circuit in 2022.

Gadecki reached three consecutive finals on the Australian Pro Tour early in the year and in June won two rounds of qualifying to reach the main draw at the WTA event in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

The Queenslander reached the semi-finals in her last event of the year in Sydney to close the season with an impressive 37-18 win-loss record.

While Popyrin has already twice reached the third round of the Australian Open, the other five wildcard entrants are seeking their first singles wins at their home major.

Hunter (nee Sanders) came extremely close in 2022 when she led Aryna Sabalenka by a set and a break at Rod Laver Arena before the No.2 seed lifted to win in three sets.

That was just the beginning of a memorable year for Hunter, who won three doubles titles and capped the season by winning three of four singles rubbers for Australia at the Billie Jean King Cup finals.

Hijikata energised the night-time Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd when he took the opening set off Rafael Nadal at the US Open in September.

The Spanish legend went on to triumph in four sets, but it was nevertheless an impressive grand slam debut for 21-year-old Hijikata, who this season slashed his ranking from world No.375 to 64th.

He did so by winning more than 50 matches and reaching four finals on the lower-tier Futures and Challenger circuits.

Fellow young-gun Gibson will be making her major debut at AO 2023, and like Hijikata won 50 matches on the secondary ITF circuit.

The 18-year-old, who was named Junior Female Athlete of the Year at the recent Newcombe Medal Australian Tennis Awards, began 2022 well outside the top 1000 but has soared to a high-mark of world No.342.

Kubler enjoyed a phenomenal comeback season, including his first trip to the second week of a major, which he achieved at Wimbledon after coming through the qualifying rounds.

He also reached the second round at Roland Garros and the US Open.

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