Australian James Duckworth was watching top seed Daniil Medvedev’s second-round match against Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik on Tuesday at the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers when he was taken by surprise. The commentary team was building anticipation for a third-round blockbuster between Medvedev and Washington champion Jannik Sinner.
Duckworth was having none of it. Sinner still had to beat him!
“The commentators were getting ready for this really good Sinner-Medvedev match next round and I just wanted to prove a point,” Duckworth told ATPTour.com. “It pissed me off listening to them say that.”
Less than 10 months ago on an indoor hard court in Cologne, Duckworth won just three games against Sinner. But with plenty of motivation on Wednesday, the Australian qualifier upset the 16th seed 6-3, 6-4 in 76 minutes.
“I knew obviously I had to play well, but there were certain tactical things that I changed a little bit — my serving spots and a couple of things on return,” Duckworth said. “I watched a fair bit of his match against Christopher O’Connell [in Atlanta] and took a few things from that and obviously had to execute today. I was able to do that in the key moments, which was a big help.”
The 29-year-old is into the third round at an ATP Masters 1000 event for the second time this year (also Miami). Before 2021, he had never made it this far at this level.
“I’m really pumped,” Duckworth said. “I was able to play well today, by far my best match of the week. Just trying to keep it going.”
Duckworth is playing some of the best tennis of his career, but he has had to overcome adversity to get to this point. The World No. 85 has undergone eight surgeries, most recently having a procedure to clean out his right shoulder last March.
“Been through a fair share of injuries, eight surgeries. To come out the other end and to be playing my best tennis currently is really rewarding,” Duckworth said. “I guess all the time doing rehab and on the operating table has paid off.”
Duckworth’s surgeries read like a grocery list: three on his right elbow, three on his right foot and two on his right shoulder between the end of 2012 and March 2020. But the Aussie has remained positive and persevered through them all.
“I’ve had a very good support team around me. I’ve got a bunch of physios up in Brisbane that I work with and just my family and close friends have been super supportive and really encouraging and helped me through times when I wasn’t sure if my body would allow me to play at this level,” Duckworth said. “That support network has been huge for me.”
Watch Duckworth On Tennis United
Duckworth avoids looking at the FedEx ATP Rankings during tournaments, but he is well-positioned to climb past his career-high of World No. 71 with his performance in Canada.
“At the start of this year, I had a bit of a goal to reach at least the third round of a Slam and I did that at Wimbledon,” Duckworth said. “A bit of a running goal [is really a] joke with my coach, Wayne Arthurs: to get higher than his career-high [singles] ranking of No. 44. That would be the goal right now.”
The best thing is that Duckworth is able to focus on his tennis rather than recovering from a surgery.
“It’s always going to be a part of who I am going through all those brutal periods. I guess I’m sort of proud that I was able to get through it,” Duckworth said. “I’m trying to show now that I can play some good tennis when my body allows me.”
The veteran has played solid tennis throughout 2021. In addition to his maiden third-round appearance at a major at Wimbledon, which came in his 25th Grand Slam main draw, Duckworth also made the second round at the Australian Open and Roland Garros.
But for now, his sights are solely set on his next opponent: World No. 2 Medvedev. This will be their first ATP Head2Head clash. Although Duckworth knows how tough the Russian is, he is embracing the opportunity.
“It’s awesome. You want to test yourself against the best guys in the world,” Duckworth said. “That’s what it will be tomorrow. It’s another big test and I’m looking forward to it.”